Gratitude Saved My Life
Six years ago I found myself walking down North Carolina Avenue, about to cross the very intersection where my husband had been robbed and brutally assaulted just three months earlier. It was a warm fall. I remember looking up into the trees, crisp orange and muted yellow, watching the leaves as they swayed to the rhythm of their annual dance. What a glory, I remember thinking, suddenly awake to a sensory experience I'd never chosen to participate in before.
Grief is a terrible, wonderful thing. It is the teacher of all things important and worthy of knowing. It is the dark force that binds and breaks the universe at its will. And it is the wise friend patting you on the back, insistent that you stop and smell the roses before there are no roses to smell.
The leaves had always been there, of course. They'd been showing up every fall I'd been an East Coaster (which is a good chunk of my life). But suddenly they appeared as a hand-delivered gift, an urgent invitation to notice the beauty in the world. And so I obeyed. I began to look at my coffee cup each morning as if it contained all the riches in the world. I sat in the driveway after a trip to the grocery store, marveled that a high-speed vehicle navigated the uncertainties and perils of the modern-day road, somehow delivering me home safely. Under the microscope, every element of my existence became a small wonder worthy of awe. My emotional pain was silenced in those moments I found the remarkable in the mundane.
Gratitude saved my life that year. And it's been saving me every day since.
But here's the truth: I get out of practice. My days become filled with responsibility, headaches, and in, my case, a daily chorus of unceasing tiny voices, until I can no longer hear the part of me begging to lean in for a closer look of my life. The abundance of my existence is always there, but it's my responsibility to shine the light on it.
So here is my request of you this Thanksgiving: get quiet and lean in. Not at the dinner table with a dozen eyes waiting on your declaration of gratitude for friends and family. But in privacy with yourself and the universe that holds you.
Marvel at your life. Marvel at your riches. The perfect tomato; a commute without traffic; a fleecy sweatshirt that feels like a baby blanket; that tiny, perfect gap between your teeth. Do it this weekend, but do it always - during the moments of your deepest emotional pain, and even during an impassioned rant about the annoyances of your job.
An incredible yoga teacher of mine once began her class this way, "Wow. Look around. How lucky are we to even sit and talk about yoga today? It's a privilege to have this conversation."
And so it is. It's a privilege. Every bit of it.