The G-Word: Attempting Gratitude

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Do we need this?

I’ve been thinking about gratitude lately.  Almost involuntarily.  I’ve been wondering, is gratitude a prerequisite to living well?

I just came back from a short vacation to Lake Tahoe.  And as I got closer to home, that sinking feeling seeped in, “I am returning to an empty house.”  I loved being married, you came home to the person you loved.  Better yet, you went away with them, came home together and dealt with anything that came up in between.  After the long drive home, one of you could shop, the other unpack, then chat about the wonders of your trip over pasta together.

But that was the past. I decided to be grateful that I was returning to my lovely home, and do a few nice things for myself.  I would get the car washed so it was shiny.  I would buy some yummy groceries so the fridge was stocked instead of gaping at me, empty and remorseful.  Then I might even buy a few flowers and…

The car battery had died.  In 90 degree heat with a trunk full of the overpriced gourmet shit I’d bought to cheer myself up.  I went back into the grocery store with my purchases and waited for Triple A.  I got a charge.  I drove home, left the engine running and unloaded my food, dropping the bags and breaking the eggs.  Then, in rush hour, driving in a direction I always avoid after 2:00 p.m., I went to the dealership, got a new battery and drove home in more rush hour.

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Now this just sucks.

And did I mention my throbbing foot from some weird bug bite I got on  the trip?  I have always though that the great outdoors does not like me.  Now I know for sure, it has told me so in swollen, purple skin.

Oh yeah, back to gratitude.  The people at the dealership are awesome, checking fluid levels and tire pressure on my car and doing the work close to closing time.  It got fixed quickly. I should be grateful that everything is fine.

But after a long drive home from Tahoe I was cranky and whimpering.  Were George still alive, he’d replace the battery himself or drive to the dealership (carpool lane) with me, or at least help carry the fucking, now slightly dented groceries. And that is the problem I am having with gratitude.

I can look at my post-George experiences and be grateful for them in the abstract, but in a concrete, day-to-day way,  it’s hard.  I am trying to visualize positive outcomes, to do interesting things, and to be grateful for (relative) security and new experiences.  I am working on being grateful for time alone and a boyfriend I can hang out with, but do not have to live with.  I’ve talked to a few friends lately who have extolled the joys of being in a relationship, but living apart. (I myself think a man is most useful when fixing things or at least getting the takeout while you wait for the plumber).

So something goes wrong around the house or the battery dies and it’s anger time.  Do I need to be grateful? Is this an effective way to look at change or just a way to sell new aged crap packaged on t-shirts and aspirational post-its?  While I was having my ordeal. my boyfriend was at “Wilco Appreciation Day” at Amoeba Records.

Gratitude or an unbalanced, off-kilter universe?

11 Comments

  • Cindy says:

    I adore your honesty in this piece because what you describe happens on a perpetual basis. Except the widowhood aspect, of course, but the broken eggs and dead battery…yeah, I totally get that. As for how we ought to handle it, well, that’s the million dollar question and I certainly don’t have the patent on an answer. But for me, personally, on most days I fall somewhere in the middle: I let myself feel the anger/frustration/sadness/etc for awhile, but then I tell myself to shift my perspective away from what is wrong or missing and toward what is right and present. Because both are valid–to pretend otherwise is dishonest and counterproductive.

  • Betsy says:

    I agree with Cindy – most days are a mix of anger, frustration, sadness, and then after all that I start to realize that something good happened, something simple as my flowers growing, or having a car that does start, or getting my feelings written down in a journal. Yesterday I would of been married 41 years, and as the day was sad, I was grateful that I had married my best friend and soul mate and that I still have a bottle of unopened Champagne from our wedding. Your posts continue to resonate. Thank you.

    • Debbie says:

      Thank you Betsy. Your words are lovely. I too am grateful that I married my soul mate and we had so many years together.

  • Jacqui says:

    I’m grateful for you, Debbie! So often our experiences chime and you make me laugh, think or cry when I read your blogs and articles. You inspire me to write. Thank you!
    You liked my recent Facebook post about being grateful for the helpful man at the parking ticket machine – so you know that, like you, I am trying to focus on reasons to be grateful. Despite this, I don’t think we need to be purely grateful all the time, When broken eggs, heat, flat batteries and bad traffic make you feel weepy and cranky, be cranky. You can “multi-feel” – weep, be cranky and grateful for the helpful mechanics all at the same time!
    Back from my holiday in Greece I am grateful that I learnt to windsurf, started painting again, got into yoga and made two new friends (one to go travelling with next year.) A Dutchman flirted with me. (I think he was flirting, I’m out of practise at reading the signals.) I danced, laughed a lot, came home toned and tanned. Telling everyone what a great time it was, I fulfil their expectations that I am now doing just fine. I don’t mention that, nearly 5 years after he died, I just want to show my paintings to Paul, tell him about all the fun I had and have him admire my brown legs.
    Nor do I mention how pathetically overwhelmed I am by all the forgotten chores waiting for my return – a broken tap and light switches, conquering weeds and long grass. The English weather spited me, raining before and after my holiday while dry heat when I was away withered my plants. There’s shopping, cleaning, paperwork, all the dull stuff, to do, all keeping me from realising the vision of my house as a beautiful haven. I struggle to keep it tidy! There’s an armchair cramping the kitchen as it waits for the free-cycler who responded to my “Trash Nothing” ad. If she doesn’t come soon sentimentality may force me to keep it. Then what will I do with my own free-cycled armchair in the living room that begs to be re-upholstered? Walls blotched with year old paint samples testify to my best intentions and to my inertia
    I’ve no idea when the house painting and upholstery will get done. I ride my horse less often than is good for either of us, I am carrying on with artwork. (It messes up my kitchen which has become a studio!) I’m starting a writing course next week. I’d like to fit in a yoga class and practise at home every day – before or after my intended discipline of daily writing and painting? Want more time with friends too.
    I am grateful for all these opportunities for creativity and self-improvement. However, I can’t do it all (I am still working, love my “new” job – been there a year now) yet I am totally unable to choose a focus. This is making me cranky.
    I could be cranky and weepy when Paul was with me – sometimes he got me out of it, sometimes it was him that made me so. If I could be cranky and weepy then, when life was so much easier, of course sometimes I will be cranky and weepy now. There is nothing to be grateful for in losing our future, though much to be thankful for in all that we shared.
    Paul and I shared the chores and the income-generating work, giving one another space and time for creativity. We had shared ideas for the house and garden to execute together, we intended for him to write and me to illustrate a story, we had holiday plans.
    One of the hardest moments between Paul’s diagnosis and death came while we sat on the sofa watching a wildlife programme. Some people may consider it odd that we watched TV when there was so little time left, but when terminal illness, palliative treatment and grief saps your energy it is impossible to live each hour in new ways, anticipating the end of time. Yet that anticipation often intrudes on the mundane and so, with a meeting of eyes and hands, Paul and I shared the knowledge that just weeks before we would have said, “Let’s go there one day,” and understood without words that we could no longer say that.
    Another evening as I left Paul in hospital he texted me to say “Look at the full moon tonight.” I looked at the moon and texted back, “The full moon is less beautiful without you.” He replied, “Enjoy it for both of us.” I am still trying to do that, grateful for all we shared, grateful for all I have, and still grieving.

    • Debbie says:

      I think you have a career as a writer. Your holiday sounds fantastic. I’d love to try windsurfing. I’ve tried paddle board yoga. And I agree with you that we are happy, or grateful, and angry etc in the space of a few minutes. And now I’ll look at the moon. Love.

  • Bruce says:

    Well it looks like Debbie has jumped a small hurdle, and at least said something positive.
    Baby Steps, Sister ,Baby Steps.

  • Susan says:

    Yes, you should be grateful just like I am grateful. My husband taught me a lot and for that I am grateful to be able to do things for myself without falling apart. I am able to carry on with the projects and responsibilities we shared. I am not destitute or ill and am able to sort through the crazy relatives and even more inanities that plague each person without disintegrating into mush. His love and devotion are what get me through each and every day. I work hard to carry that forward and to learn to give love again.

    I went through a very selfish period. Quite recently I recognized how silly and childish I was. My story isn’t unique nor was our love any better than anyone else’s. It was simply our story and impossible to share with others. Instead it was time to stop griping about what I didn’t have anymore and begin sharing that love through other ways with others. Secretly I share the love I had with Lee. It is our secret together even though he isn’t here physically, he is always with me in my head and heart.

    Therefore, I am grateful to be able to share the love again. I hope you will know that kind of gratefulness again too.

  • Tim says:

    Gratitude or an off-kilter universe? Yes and yes. It’s a bounty of unhelpful reality out there…that’s beautiful anyway. Because yes, our better Buddha nature requires a fundamental addiction to gratitude (plus it helps us avoid being the spoiled 1st world brats we rightfully fear becoming/being) but that’s hard in a world that just seems lackluster some days. But that’s the good thing, our inner godly nature might be gratitude, but you’re only required to be human. Maybe imperfection is fine, as long as we kinda sorta face towards a better way.

    Which is why I can look at this comment and cringe at its presumptuous tomfoolery, but post it anyway.

    Right as my neighbor, who had some kind of rather severe physical issue that requires him to wear a 5-inch sole on one of his shoes, continues his precarious daily walk to stave off immobility. He’s grateful for the ability to walk, and I’m grateful to him for reminding me.

    (And, as always, I’m grateful to you, since on days when I REALLY don’t feel like writing, I’ll stop by and read your enjoyable posts, and they tend to jumpstart me a bit. Get me back in love with words. Thank you for that.)

    • Debbie says:

      Thank you so very much my vagabond friend and general inspiration. (I’m a homebody, but am going on a vacation to Italy). I agree that we accept our own imperfections, but best to look towards gratitude. Perhaps some sort of inner dynamic, but then I did just get back from a yoga retreat, which did increase my gratitude levels. Safe travels.