Some images sear themselves into our consciousness: the Twin Towers collapsing, the young girl running down a road in Vietnam after a napalm attack, the picture of a struggling mother during the Great Depression. For me, another one has been added to that gallery as thousands of panicked people of Afghanistan mobbed the airport in an attempt to flee their country.
On this day dedicated to being grateful for my incredible life, I’m having difficulty getting past the raging monster fires spreading across the west, including my own beloved Lake Almanor area, the Delta variant threatening our health care system, the melting icebergs, lost animal species, and the incomprehensible rise in violence as our political differences turn toward madness.
Watching desperate people flee a disintegrating government only deepens my rising sense of despair and hopelessness. My rose-colored glasses are circling the drain. Stop!
But, stopping this cycle is like applying brakes to a locomotive. All I hear is the squealing of metal on metal as sparks fly. However, stop I must. Beyond this point, there be dragons.
I know gratitude helps. It’s a light in the darkness, but the shadow that holds me does not want to let go. It feeds me “but-what-abouts” until I gag. It tells me horror stories of past and present, paints pictures of apocalyptic bleakness, hellscapes of a dying world.
This, too, shall pass.
The words are a whisper, but enough to calm my breath.
This, too, shall pass.
I begin to list my right-now reality: I am alive, I’m amazingly healthy, sitting in a beautiful place surrounded by mountains, trees, and pristine air. There is food in my refrigerator, clean water from the tap, and the wifi is working. Friends are a phone call away; birds are singing; it’s a brand new day.
I remember what I have survived: death of loved ones and friends, disappointments galore, divorce, financial set-backs, lost jobs and homes I loved, a lonely childhood, and almost 76 years of life.
Resilience and Gratitude
In a Psychology Today article, Jeff Thompson, Ph.D., Adjunct Associate Research Scientist at the Molecular Imaging and Neuropathology Division of the New York State Psychiatric Institute at Columbia University Medical Center, states:
“One key aspect of resilience is having gratitude practices.”
Canadian life coach Ray Samuels defines resilience as “functioning with a sense of purpose, meaning and forward momentum in the face of trauma.” Today’s world overflows with trauma, to the point that all of us seem to be just a bit shell-shocked, reacting to the many challenges of the world with fear, anger and symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
Gratitude may be the best healer. It doesn't change the circumstances, but it helps us manage them. As Jeff Thompson reminds us: “It reminds you that if you stop and pause, there is still good all around us and it is happening each day.” That’s what helped pull me out of the feelings of despair that surrounded me this morning: recognizing the good that surrounds me, remembering that I have weathered other storms, and knowing that I’m not alone.
Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt asked Facebook readers what advice they would give their younger self … in exactly 4 words. The responses were golden (choose your friends carefully) … and sometimes brutal (do not marry him). The one that stuck with me was the most was “life does not wait.” I decided that my addition to that list would be Brother Steindl-Rast’s famous dictum: Everything is a gift!
On my morning walk, while the jays squawked and the squirrels scurried, my mood lifted as I absorbed vitamin-N. I realized that I am actually grateful for the pain I’m feeling for the world right now. It means I’m human and have a heart. It means I can feel the pain of others; that I am connected; that we are all connected.
In a life where I’ve often felt alone and disconnected, I am grateful for these feelings; grateful to be a part of life with all it’s sparkling joys and all its piercing disappointments.
Choosing to feel grateful is a choice; choosing to practice gratitude in the toughest of times is a choice which yields amazing gifts and results.
“Resilience and the Practice of Gratitude. How a gratitude practice can contribute to your inner strength,” Jeff Thompson, Ph.D., Psychology Today, March 29, 2020