Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Love Letters to My Life #38: Choosing Gratitude Resilience

(We know the day we were born, but most of us do not know the day we will die. This love letter to my life is written on the day I've designated as my death day: the 17th of every month, and reminds me to be grateful for my incredible life.)

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.
Everything changes.

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.

Gratitude slowly seeps back into the day as a blue bird explores the screen of my front door. I hear a squirrel digging through gravel to find a buried acorn and feel the cool morning air. All around me new acorns are growing, green apples are slowly turning red, and the top leaves of the poplars are turning yellow. Life is going on, turning into autumn, dancing to its own rhythms. I can’t control it, but I can flow with it.

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.

4-word advice

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. 

Topping off the morning walk was a gift: a small, blue Stellar's Jay feather: a reminder of other days, in a world where Jonathan Livingstone Seagull soared and the sequel Illusions introduced me to the power of rare, although simple and believable, gifts. I've been here almost a year and this is the first of these beautiful feathers I've found. This one was right in the middle of the path where there was no way to miss it.

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.

Read more:

“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


  1. Dear Joyce: This is an absolutely brilliant commentary! The textures you give to both words and natural objects set a rich stage for resilience. I have often said to kids that if you think like an artist, you are really lucky. As an artist you see and notice things that others just pass by: a color, a feather, the cast of shadow on a rock. The richness of gratitude protects and gives our lives even deeper meaning.

    Thank you for your lovely words.

    1. Thank you so much, Wendy! I am so grateful to have been given the time to learn to notice things. It's like a light was turned on and all things became sparkly. ;-)

  2. What a tender and inspiring post Joyce. I love that maxim and do my best to live by it continually, "Everything is a gift."
    Some days it's harder to experience the gift in everything than others, but, as you so eloquently state, when I practice gratitude, seeing, feeling, knowing the gift in everything becomes effortless.
    Thank you for the gift of your words and images today.

    1. Thanks, Louise ... finding the gift in hard times is almost always a challenge and I know you've worked hard to find some really tough ones.

  3. Beautiful text, lovely images, stunning blue feather. I bow to you in gratitude.

    1. Thank you, Becky ... delighted to share the blue feather with you.

  4. Before I understood about the birds and the bees, I thought God just put babies on a conveyer belt and they were dropped down from heaven to their parents. Somehow this disparity came to me when I was around 10 and we had moved down south and there was a dirt poor black family across the street. When I lived in Beirut I saw Syrian refugees and heard their gut wrenching stories. The same with Palestinians who lost their land in 1948 and the Tamils in the north of Sri Lanka. Yes, we are incredibly charmed and people still complain. I just don't understand.

  5. Thanks! Your world experience and natural empathy has created deep wisdom to be shared.

  6. I identify with everything in your essay, though I find it hard to think everything is a gift. I am pulling out everything I have on resilience and gratitude and reading this is a gift and an encouragement. And just days ago I found a blue jay feather while playing with a dog friend. Thank you, Joyce.

    1. Some gifts are much harder to find and accept! Enjoy your blue feather ...