A friend reached out to me a few days ago. She recently lost her husband whom she more than just loved. She actually really liked him too – which, based on what I’ve seen personally and know to be true for so many in spite of their social media “image ambitions”, genuinely liking one’s life partner after decades together is a very rare thing.
So my dear friend is in pain. Searing, heart-breaking pain.
My phone pinged with one simple request from her: “Tell me about gratitude”.
I’ve been thinking extra hard about gratitude– especially this time of year when we Americans celebrate American Thanksgiving no matter where we are in the world.
As I write these words from Europe where I live, I envision the United States aflutter with millions of little American flags slapping the wind loudly and in your face with the implied sentiment of “BE THANKFUL!”
Let me also say that this friend of mine is not American so gratitude isn’t something she’s thinking about because an entire national holiday is dedicated to it.
Gratitude has become an omnipresent buzzword worldwide. Indeed, we dedicate journals to listing out reasons for being thankful. We meditate to find it. In yoga, we often theme our practice and pace our breath to the idea of gratitude.
But I also know (and for those of us like myself with a natural penchant towards rebellion), that it’s basic human nature to push away that which is pushed upon us. Some of us may even have guilt or feel like something’s wrong with us for not being “thankful enough” given everything we’ve been through collectively and personally with the pandemic.
So I understand and empathise deeply with my friend who just isn’t able to find gratitude –let alone feel it. I get that people have a “complicated relationship” with it. And so often I hear the words, “I should be grateful but…”
When my own sister died almost 4 years ago now, that word kept coming up: gratitude.
People scoff at the idea of being thankful in their suffering – especially when a loved one dies. How the hell can you find gratitude when the person who was your everything – with whom you aligned your thoughts, your goals, the rhythm of your life — is no longer here?
I never scoffed at gratitude. I couldn’t. I clung to it with all I had. Gratitude became the foundation from which I brushed off my knees, got up and kept going.
Why? Because my sister was such a beautiful, remarkable, spectacular soul that I was simply grateful that I ever had her in my life at all.
Why? Because our love was pure. It was raw and genuine. Together we lived through life’s most hideously ugly moments and its most breathtakingly beautiful ones — the kind that have today become memories that I hold up to the light and look at as if through a prism. And every time I revisit those moments – I see them through different angles and there are new, brighter colours to aspects of our life that I hadn’t noticed before.
Our love as sisters wasn’t loud and flashy and out in the open for anyone else to witness. It was quiet —conversations on repeat about everything and nothing over tea (always in porcelain cups with saucers!) as we absently turned pages of fashion and décor magazines on the couch while the children played. Our love as sisters always had music in the background – classical music, rhythm & blues, jazz, pop and even hard rock sometimes – in the car, as we cooked, as we typed away on our laptops side by side. Our love was dissecting the banal and the profound — recipes or outfits from France, people and personalities, commentary and editorials, worldwide and personal events, childhood memories, future dreams, shared trauma, shared joy.
When you have that foundation of love, how can you not be grateful? I know what true love is. I know that even though my sister is no longer here, we still share that love.
Even after a person is gone, your relationship with them lasts forever. And honestly, how lucky am I to have that beautiful source of authentic love to pull from until it’s my own turn to go?
And that is what I would say to my friend. Gratitude is in the knowledge that she was given the gift of her own unique and unparalleled love story with her late husband. Gratitude is in knowing that even though he’s no longer physically here, his love was real and pure. Gratitude in the knowledge that his love for her is enough to fuel her for life. Her cup runneth over with their love for each other. Everything else from here henceforth is pure bonus…
And once you tap into that knowledge, more things to be grateful for present themselves.
Before the rest of the world was up this morning, I stood at the kitchen window and was in awe of the bright pink lining of the first clouds that appeared. And I was thankful that I was up early enough to see it.
A few days ago I was on a cold and windy beach in Ireland with another very close friend. We sat in puffer jackets and ski hats on a wool blanket with a big thermos of tea. We raised our porcelain (!) tea cups in honour of my girlfriend’s late mother and my sister. And so I was thankful again.
Yesterday my daughter, who is in her last year of high school, repeated back to me random words of wisdom that I’d told her when she was maybe six years old. I was pleasantly surprised that she remembered what I’d said and took it to heart. And so I was thankful once more.
Each of us will have random things unique to our own experiences that we’re thankful for and when we take the time to acknowledge those things or write them down or say it out loud, practicing gratitude becomes natural – intuitive even.
Lastly I’ll just say this. I was once asked in a podcast interview: “What is the measure of a good life?” And the answer was so plainly obvious to me.
A good life is where you loved deeply and know with conviction that you too were loved in return – whether from a partner, a friend, a parent, a sibling or a pet. True love is true love. And love is always a good reason for being grateful.