Thursday, 26 August 2010

The Goodness of Gratitude

Most days I go for a walk from the Historical House along the sea to the grocery store and back. The sandy shore looks out towards Holland, and I often get a queer sense that this is wrong and I ought to be looking the other way, towards Canada. But then I think of my sister who loves the Atlantic provinces, and reflect that when she looks across her sea, she is also looking towards Holland. We are both facing ad orientem.

It never ceases to be a surprise that I am here, going for almost daily walks along the sea, earning very little and doing all the laundry, going to Mass in Latin, bedding down under a 17th century roof, far from the tyrannous rumble of urban traffic. Occasionally I am awoken by hooting owls; more often I am woken by northern sun. I was offered this life when I was almost 38 years old, and I said, "Yes, thank you."

Of course it is not a perfect life. I have many dreams and wishes that have not been fulfilled and some will never be fulfilled. Time is starting to make itself felt; the clock started ringing years ago and the bell is running down. Startled by the contrast between my face and the faces of 20 year old women, I've recommitted to eating fresh fruits and vegetables. But I think the prospect of the creasing and sagging ahead would be easier if I had fresh-faced progeny to look at.

I was very moved by the online account of one anonymous woman who wept when, single, she saw happy couples at Mass and now, married, weeps when she sees happy couples at Mass with babies. That is just too much weeping, in my humble opinion. It can't be nice for her husband, either there or on the way home.

It turns out that it is bad for teenage girls to talk and talk and talk about their problems. Going over them doesn't help; it makes the girls depressed. And I think the same may be true of adult women and men: once a week at the therapist's or in spiritual direction should be enough--twice or thrice a week in a crisis. People do need to get things off their chest, and to ask for advice, and to find comfort. Sometimes writing a letter--even to Auntie Seraphic--makes order out of a confused situation and helps the writer forward. However, I think a person should contemplate the joys of her life much more often than she considers her sorrows.

Melodie Beattie, the author of Co-Dependent Once More, once described moving into a run-down house. She was very depressed at how battered it was. Feeling herself falling into a depression, she tried gratitude. She thanked God for the battered house, having a roof over her head and the head of her son. Her mood lifted, and as as she continued to thank God for this house, she worked on it until it became a nice little house.

Gratitude is not only what is owed to our Creator, it is bread, water and cake to our psyches. We all have many things to be grateful for, even if we won them ourselves with hard work or suffering. When I dropped out of my PhD program, I was grateful that I had a caring brother and sister-in-law to take me home and, indeed, that I had homes to go to. I was grateful that I could write. I was grateful for my family and for my friends at home. I was grateful for ordinary, everyday, reserved, Canadian civility, however hypocritical foreigners find it. I was grateful for Aelianus, who gave me his unvarnished opinion of the theological modernism that had so angered and depressed me. I was grateful for Trish, who said the most important, soul-saving thing.

My list of beatitudes has changed since I married, but my stance of gratitude has not. To choose to live in gratitude is to vote for happiness. It is not the province of married people. There are thousands of married people who have chosen to be miserable. If I set my mind to it, I could make myself miserable by blowing up my husband's occasional cross moods into monstrous injustices, by worrying endlessly about money, and by wailing over my lost academic career, about which I don't usually give a damn. (Better a dish of herbs where love is than a stalled ox where hatred abounds.) Instead of smiling at the little children I see on the beach, I could weep and wail because they're not mine. But I don't choose to. I don't choose to be miserable. I choose to be happy. Happy rocks my world.

What are the five things for which you are most grateful?

Update: In case you need more convincing, here is "The Badness of Bitterness" again.


Fritha said...

Things I am grateful for
1 - my gorgeous 18 month old nephew, who is coming home permanently from the UK next week
2 - the love of my wonderful friends and family
3 - the joy and beauty of music, and my ability to bring joy to others through this
4 - The ability to read and learn
5 - That I finally got round to cutting my hair back to a length that suits me!

Julie said...

Things I am grateful for:

1. my parents and the good relationship I have (always had) with them
2. my grad school schedule, which gives me enormous control over my time
3. my grad school stipend, which supports me in all the necessities
4. being debt-free, and my grandparents' (estate's) generosity which made that possible
5. the fact that I had no cavities in spite of being away from the dentist for four+ years!!

The gratitude exercise always reminds me that I am in a good position. The next question becomes, to do what? And it's when I think about that question that the whole single thing feels very insignificant.

Janet in Toronto said...

Just turned 50, married for 27 years, so not your target audience, But I am grateful for

1. a husband who loves me unconditionally, who has always supported me emotionally and spiritually, and for the last eight years, financially. I once dreamed of a life where I didn't have to work outside the home, and I now have it.

2. the beauty in the city: it's people, places, culture, voices

3. teen sons who challenge and surprise me.

4. new friendships, that are growing from buds to blossoms.

5. my public library, that keeps me constantly supplied with great reading.

6. leaving behind the expectations of others (aborted PhD, paid employment), and finding joy in growing into my true self

7. the utter pleasure of choral singing.

I couldn't stop at 5...

aurah85 said...

Things I'm grateful for:

1. The family I was born in. They have given me all the love and support that I needed to pursue my dreams.
2. That my brothers and parents are in good health.
3. The opportunity of coming to Canada for grad school.
4. Having found a nice and safe place to live, with a wonderful landlady, and a great funny roommate.
5. Having found Seraphic's blog! It has helped to see my singleness in a whole new light ;)

theobromophile said...

1. My family - slightly screwy, but incredibly loving.

2. The health of everyone in my family. I'm almost 30 and have three of four biological grandparents and three of four step-grandparents, four healthy parents, three healthy siblings, and a healthy dog.

3. My new place - lovely, quiet, good housemates, inexpensive, and in a safe area. Oh, and the house was built in the 19th century, so it's all sorts of cool.

4. After years of butting my head up against walls, my career seems to be moving forward - not in the direction I initially planned, but in ways that give me some hope. (Oh, and in this economy? That I'm under-employed, not unemployed.)

5. Friends and mentors.

bolyongok said...

Five Things I'm Grateful For:

1. My Catholic faith, without which I would probably not be alive today.

2. My enjoyment of reading, without which I would be really bored.

3. Having a job with good benefits and full insurance.

4. My little silver car which gets me where I need to go.

5. My church/church-family which gets me through the week.

AveLady said...

In order more of what's recently been on my mind than of actual importance in my life:

1) Finally having a job with health benefits! And which makes enough money that I can get more music lessons.

2) Absolutely amazingly wonderful friends all over the country. I've only recently come to realize how lucky I was to go to a college where I could make so many wonderful friends who would go on to live in almost every state and sometimes other countries. They may not all be people I'd bare my soul too, but a lot of them would happily put me up, help me out, pray with me and pray for me, and I would do the same for them.

3) Family, of course. I don't know that any friends, however great, will ever be quite as fun to be silly with as my family.

4) An adorable (and inexpensive) apartment that makes me feel very girly and independent, plus a sweet roommate who's a great cook AND lovely neighbors and friends right across the hall who are also great cooks ;)

5) A choir that lets me sing beautiful polyphony and chant, meet and hang out with quirky nerdy people like me and enjoy the TLM every week.

Alisha said...

1. My faith, particularly that Christ gave us Himself

2. My family, which is funny, healthy and close

3. Dancing and music and the ability to share it

4. Knowledge/reading

5. Friends who are loyal and attentive - they are rare.

Seraphic said...

Yay! Thanks for sharing your beatitudes!

sciencegirl said...

1) My family & their health
2) My friends
3) My chant group
4) The fun of being a grad student and having a job that lets me travel
5) My house that has a garden

Christine said...

1. the gift of Faith in Christ and His Church, and what a gift it is!

2. A family that loves me and wants to make me happy.

3. Having a place to live where I am welcome (with my family).

4. Libraries, and happily finding my future career in them.

5. Growing friendships, especially new ones locally that I never thought I'd find.

Jen D said...

1. A beautiful new town to explore
2. A sweet little one-bedroom apartment
3. The soothing river nearby
4. A cool job with a Catholic organization
5. The ease of keeping in touch with old friends via the internet

fifi said...

I really like this post. The heart of the matter is a sense of entitlement, I think. Last time I checked, there was nothing on my birth certificate guaranteeing me a husband. No one is has some grand cosmic right to five kids and "happily ever after." But to hear all of us talk, sometimes you'd think so. We're so certain those things are headed our way, and ticked off when they are "late" in coming.

I feel like some of my married friends even miss out on that understanding. They fell in love with someone who actually loved them back and think it's just that simple. They missed what a huge, statistically improbable, wondrous and rare thing that was! If sometimes think long-single newlyweds make the best couples: you are less likely to complain about toast crumbs and snoring when you've eaten and slept alone for years.

I'm no longer amazed when relationships doesn't work. I'm stunned when they do. It's like a plant that only blooms once every thousand years, or a conjunction of planets. Not very original, I know. But the same goes for the other amazing things we have: health, a college degree, a reasonably happy family. Look around you, and you'll wonder why you, of all people, won the lottery.

A lot of us are starving at a fabulous gourmet banquet, because there's no chocolate on the table, and therefore we feel deprived. Time to stop my hissyfit, and eat some other delicious food instead.

Thanks for the reminder!