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.