This evening I found myself thinking about a friend of mine with whom I had spoken earlier in the week. She, like me, had gone through a period in which her life was rocked by a series of challenges. While mine were mostly about loss (losing a job, a home, a relationship, and for a while, a sense of self), hers were more about the stresses of a high powered, low-fulfillment job and the pressures of being a working single mother of two children who evolved (or rather devolved) from being sweet and cute and funny, to being angry, mean, destructive, nearly unrecognizable creatures who, for a time, made her life utterly miserable. I know this because we talked several times per week, each commiserating with the other for the intense, though different challenges we were facing during the same period of time.
Back then I found it helpful to listen to her talk about her struggles with her children; it allowed me some space from thinking about my own problems. I could offer sympathy, empathy, and advice as needed, and on other days, she would do the same.
As I thought about her today, now a few years removed from those struggles, I realize that also like me, much of what was lost or, in her case, created such trauma in our respective lives, we were now experiencing a most wonderful thing: restoration. During my year from hell, during which I experienced a series of unfortunate events, it seemed as if I had lost everything except my faith and a sense of gratitude for the simple things, the beauty of life all around me. But as I sit here now, I can say that all the things I lost that year have been restored fully and even better than they had been before. I have a wonderful relationship, a much better job, a beautiful home and a new and emerging sense of self. When I think about my friend, I see her relationships with her now-grown children as having come full circle: they are not yet perfect but the degree of restoration has to be a source of joy for my friend, if she stops to look at how far things have progressed for the better.
As difficult as it can be to maintain a sense of grace, gratitude, equanimity, and even humor during challenging times, it is when we flex that muscle of offering thanks for the wonderful things in life rather than lamenting those that are difficult, that we truly begin to grow. It is when we do that that we begin to see things being restored. I for one was not looking for restoration of what I had lost. I was grateful to still be upright and smiling, even when it was through tears. The return of lost things snuck up on me, I didn’t have to go chasing after them. And even now it fills my heart with wonder.
Everything is not always smooth sailing for me nor for my friend. I have some days when I am downright cranky or suffering big time from the blues. But even in the midst of the struggles and suffering of those times, I remember what it was like to have nothing and still smile. How much more should I be able to bounce out of the blues and remember that, all things considered, life is pretty good.
The journey of these 40 days, as it reflects the journey of life, is to look at our difficulties, and look at our blessings and recognize that both are critical parts of who we’ve been, who we are, and who we are becoming. There will be suffering, and there will be joy, and it’s as simple as that. Gratitude fills me in this moment, and fills my reservoir for when I need to draw from it on those difficult days. So glad to know that when I reach for it, it is there.
Maya Angelou said, “Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer.” And so it is for me, and so I shall.