“What are you thankful for?” was the question at the bottom of an e-mail I had received the day after getting some earth-shaking news. I sat quietly, watching the cursor blink as I blinked away tears.
The nerve, I thought to myself, of this person to ask me at a crucial moment what I had to be thankful for. In light of the sequence of events that had happened the day before, in the fog of great confusion and disappointment, it was extremely difficult to find something to be grateful for. I flicked off the power, shut my laptop, and hibernated for a few days to gather my thoughts and regroup.
In the process of regrouping I spoke to a friend about my dilemma. Over FaceTime, I could see the pained, faraway look in his light blue eyes. “That’s what she used to say, every day, even when it was most difficult,” he told me. My friend’s wife had just died from cancer a few months earlier, and in her final stretch, when there was no hope left to hold on to, she would ask him every day, with a smile, “OK, what are we thankful for today?”
And he said that it humbled him, that this woman whom he had loved more than life, would find the faith and the courage to ask that question each day.
Together, they would manage to find something to be thankful for, each and every day, until she breathed her last.
It was a lesson he remembered, a legacy she had left to carry him through this difficult period of mourning. “No matter what, there is still something that we can be thankful for in each day…”
Listening to him, my spirits lifted, and from that moment I made up my mind not to let the turn of events ruin my outlook, or the holidays that were just around the corner.
I decided to look back on all the difficult times in my life and how, each and every time, the Lord had come through for me, how He never left my side. The worst pain a parent can ever experience is to lose a child, and I had survived the worst. And though one child will never replace another, I have my son today to always remind me of God’s faithfulness and love.
I was reminded of another bereaved mother who lost her home, in-laws and a child in a robbery and arson-related fire. What she told me a year after this happened left me speechless: “It could have been worse,” she said.
In my head I was thinking, what could be worse? As if reading my mind, she said, “My other child could have been there, too, but thankfully, he was in the house next door… Or else I would not have any children left.” It was gratitude, in the face of seemingly insurmountable grief.
There have been times when things have been taken away from me, when prayers did not seem to be answered. In hindsight, they were all answered, but not in the way I expected them to be and, definitely, not on my timetable. I suppose as you grow older, your propensity to surrender what is beyond your control becomes easier. Yes, there are still moments when you grapple, and when you swim against the tide, but sooner than later, you realize what a futile exercise that is, and how it’s always best to go with His flow because He’ll take care of you anyway.
In researching on gratitude, I came across this piece from the DotMagis blog on the Ignatian Spirituality website, an entry written by Michelle Donnay. A teacher, she had dreaded opening a manila envelope intentionally left on her doorstep because she felt it contained bad news.
When she finally decided to open it, out came several thank-you notes from her students, thanking her for the semester just passed, for making a difficult subject easier to understand.
“This manila envelope of gratitude made me wonder if I’ve been avoiding peering deeply inside of the difficult moments, to remember with gratitude that God is equally present there,” wrote Donnay. “Do I respond with a rushed eyes-squinted-shut-thanks-for-that, or can I unhesitatingly open my eyes to what is hidden inside the events of my life, even the events that open into swirling chaos and pain, and be grateful for the specific graces inevitably entangled within them?”
Every event, no matter how painful, always contains moments of grace. Over the last couple of weeks, in the middle of great anxiety and sadness, I have discovered a space overflowing with the love and support of family and friends from near and far. Hope and kindness kept me afloat in moments when I felt like sinking.
Gratitude is a difficult attitude to choose when life is tough, when plans fall apart, when dreams die. Choosing it precisely is what makes the act of gratitude even more powerful. Cara Callbeck, in a separate entry, nails it for me: “What are you thankful for today? It might seem like an insurmountable challenge in some circumstances. If that’s the case, Padre Pio offers you this ounce of hope: ‘The most beautiful act of faith is the one made in darkness, in sacrifice, and with extreme effort.’”
As the Psalmist wrote, “Weeping may last for a night, but joy always comes in the morning.” Everything in life is temporary, or on loan. The changing of the seasons reminds us of the impermanence of things. And so we move forward when one season ends, choosing not to stew or look back, letting go and forgiving those who persecute us, secure in the knowledge that God takes care. Gratitude, always, in the morning or evening of our lives.