Thursday, November 8, 2012

In All Things

This morning the fog was so thick, the freeway seemed to disappear into a wall of white mist.  Cars obediently followed the road into oblivion, disappearing one after another.  And though a panic rose in me when I realized I didn't know what lay beyond that veil, I drove headlong after it, following the cars in front of me and leading the cars behind.

The edges of the world were blurred, at least that little piece of world I travel in the mornings.  I could only see the road right in front of me, the cars charging along beside me.  Everything else was swallowed up.  It's a bit of a lonely, quiet feeling, as if you are really and truly cut off from the world.

But I cut through the fog with a happy heart today, uncharacteristically buoyed despite the sky's gloomy countenance.  I gave thanks for the grey morning, for the eerie spectacle of mist devouring everything on the periphery, and remembered that I should add the fog to my gratitude list later.  I drove with the radio turned down low, my mind circling around the idea of gratitude, scratching at the surface, poking at the meat of it, trying to uncover its secret.

It seems I came into this month of gratitude thinking it would be a tame and uncomplicated exercise.  I would practice being more grateful, and in turn I would feel happier.  Simple as that.

But everywhere I've turned the past few weeks, I have run face first into a reminder that a spirit of gratitude requires more than simple list making.  It started with this piece by Ann Voskamp, in which she speaks of giving thanks as a means of healing a broken spirit and says:
"Praying continually, this thanks in all things, this is what fulfills the commanding ache for joy always...  Thanks to God is what that calms the wild heart. Anger makes us sick and weak and bound and the therapy is in the thanks."
And, reading it, I realized the requirement is not finding something to be grateful for even in times of grief or fear.  The requirement is giving thanks in all things, for all things.  Accepting everything as a gift: the loss, the sickness, the death, all of it.

Photo of the Angel of Grief by William Wetmore Story

This is not the picture of gratitude I was expecting to emerge from this month of giving thanks.  See, I was looking for an easy prescription.  Take two of these and call me in the morning

The last thing I expected was to learn that instead of turning away from the disappointment and the frustration and the heartache, I was supposed to look them square in the eye and give thanks for them.  Not what I had in mind, thank you very much.  I was hoping that by looking at the rosy side of things, by diligently writing down the pretty images I came across throughout the week, I would hardly notice the pile of disaster lurking over in the corner.

This weekend I was on a retreat, and wouldn't you know it the speaker told us all about finding joy by cultivating a spirit of gratitude.  And she went right on to talk about maintaining that joy, and the gratitude, through trials.  It seems I am to have this message pounded into my head, like it or not.

In between the sessions, I went out for a run.  We were out in the Texas Hill Country, and the November afternoon was pushing 80 degrees.  And though I told myself I wouldn't dwell on it, I couldn't help but remember it was the day before the due date I was given for the child that we lost this spring.  I decided that I would outrun the pain of that loss, right then and there, and then I would bury it out there, pounded into the gravel of the trail.

I'm out of shape these days, so I would sprint as hard as I could until I thought my lungs were going to explode, and then I would drop back into a walk.  After the first two or three sprints, I was crying hard, gasping for air and sobbing so loud I prayed I wouldn't run into anyone else out on the trail.  It felt good, cathartic, final.

And on my way back to the cabin, all the fight gone out of me, I asked myself quietly whether I could be thankful for that loss.  Not thankful despite it, but thankful for it.

Out there the answer was so clear.  Yes.  I can be thankful even for that.  For the joy the pregnancy brought me, for the look in Sam's eyes when we saw the heartbeat, grainy and faint on the monitor.  For the way I have grown through this experience, this trying and getting and losing and trying and not getting and waiting and wondering and despairing and then hoping again.  I can be grateful even for something that stings as mightily as this does.

I was thinking of that moment this morning, driving into the fog.  The landscape was muddled, hidden, mysterious.  But in my mind, I was back there under the clear afternoon sky, gravel crunching beneath my shoes, the muscles in my thighs burning, asking myself if I could be grateful and finding that I could, somehow, be grateful even for the heartache.

Could it be that simple?  Can I just choose to be grateful in all things?  Is it possible that this rich, visceral kind of gratitude can simply be opted into? 

Outside my window, the fog was devouring cars one by one, coming for me and yet never reaching me.  I began to see the fog like a hollow monster, something that looms so large but can be sliced right through.  And I wondered, is that what a grateful heart can do, cut right through fear and sadness?  Beneath my hands, the steering wheel hummed, and outside my headlights scratched at the wall of mist.  I said thanks for everything I saw and felt and thought, and it all became an unbroken prayer, a whispered javelin hurled at the veil of mist around me.


{This month, I am writing on the topic of gratitude, keeping a gratitude journal, and generally wrestling with that insidious tendency to think there is always something missing. I hope you will join me in this month of giving thanks.}

1 comment:

  1. In some of the meetings I attend, people will say,"I am ..., and I am a grateful recovering alcoholic." At first I thought they were insane. Why would you be grateful that you were an alcoholic. Now I know. The process of my recovery has forced me to look square in the face my own issues, and has made me a better person. Conversely, having been through it allows me to effectively council others who are going through it. I wouldn't want to have to do it again, but I can say that I am grateful for what I have learned as a result of it all.

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