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Look the Other Way ... to Gratitude

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I grew up having much to be grateful for and being aware that I did. I always enjoyed Thanksgiving and loved the idea of holiday dedicated wholly to gratitude. As I enter my seventh decade, I have an ever-deepening relationship with gratitude. I've found it to be the most powerful antidote during times of loss, illness or difficulty.

When I grieve the loss of a loved one, I look the other way--away from the loss and toward the gratitude I have for knowing them and having shared life with them. The gratitude is always greater than my sense of loss. In fact, it is the one emotion I find strong enough to help me battle grief. Gratitude helps lift me from that painful depth and continue to appreciate life, even as I must live it without others whom I would never choose to live without.

When too many projects must be completed at one time, and I find myself complaining about my workload, I look the other way: to gratitude for having good work to do. That the work comes in waves instead of according to some sensible schedule is a fact of life. The gratitude within me rises to meet that wave.

Last year, I was unable to walk for several months. Before the fracture in my femur was diagnosed and the leg pain had reached post-surgical intensity, I was grateful for a wheelchair. To move without that searing pain provided a relief almost too deep for words. I can feel it even now. This year, as I walk through the grocery store pushing a cart rather than driving a motorized one, I am grateful beyond words simply to walk.

Finding goodness in the news
I give thanks for hearing good things in the news. We can all make an effort to look for good news, in spite of the media storms--from dust devils to tornadoes, the whirlwinds of negativity, destruction, and wrongful death come at us through words and images at a pace undreamt of just 20 years ago. So, I stop. I often turn off the radio or the television. I look for the good. And I always find it.  I find it in a friend willing to stay up late on a work night and talk to me about something important. I find it in coworkers who raise funds for charity every month of the year, in busy volunteers who take an extra route for Meals on Wheels, in adults who are Big Brothers and Sisters for children who need them. I also feel gratitude when I am in the presence of someone who strives to live their spiritual practice.

Ysabel de la Rosa
A few weeks ago, I called a local church about a business matter. I spoke with the office manager, someone I had never met. I'll call her Rosalía. Her voice seemed to waft through the phone and float into my office. There were music and peace in that voice. It gave me peace to speak with her. I almost did not want to hang up the phone.  Later, I spoke to a friend who attends that church and I told her what deep peace I felt during that "mundane" conversation. She told me that Rosalía's son had recently died. Injured in a freak accident in childhood, he lived, gravely disabled, into his 30s. Rosalía and her husband cared for him until the day he died. I am grateful to know people whose spiritual strength is so great that even after such a loss, I can hear peace and joy in their voice, that they can transmit that mysterious peace and joy to me. I am grateful for the model of that strength, and the experience of that peace which "passes all understanding."

Through the years, I have learned that gratitude does not just happen. Water flows downhill. Gravity is constant, both literally and figuratively. Like water, life events and circumstances are always naturally working to pull us downward into the land of "not." We see with great clarity what we don't have. We resent our responsibilities as we observe what others do not have to do or do without. We suffer at the hands of unfair employers and unkind or unhealthy bosses. There are days when we cannot protect those we love from life's downward pull, doubling the downward force we already feel. The gravity takes on a powerful magnetism.

Ysabel de la Rosa
These are the times when we need to look the other way, look upward and outward, and practice making that important list, titled "Things I'm Thankful For."  We need to do this not just once a year, but if we can, once a day. We don't have to write it down, just notice the list and give it room to grow in our hearts and minds. The antidote of gratitude can then begin to work its magic. The pulling force recedes. Rather than flow away from us, the water of life comes to us and fills our cup.

My question to you this Thanksgiving is not "What are you grateful for?", but rather, how often are you grateful? How quickly can you look "the other way," and say, "But there are also these blessings present." It can be as simple and as deep a blessing as sun after storm, food on the table, warmth in winter. It can be as rich and complex as your child finding his or her perfect mate or his life's calling, or as dramatic as finding yourself helped or even rescued by a fellow human in a time of disaster.

Ysabel de la Rosa
I am looking to that other side now, as my cat with the divinely painted face leaps onto my desk and walks across my keyboard. Can't she see I'm working? Then, she purrs, that lovely, slightly syncopated, rr-rrr-rumble. Her unique music enlivens my solitude. She rubs against my arm. She brings me gratitude and delight.

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