For two years now, I have been keeping a gratitude journal. Every evening before I go to bed I write down at least one thing I am thankful for that day. Certain people show up over and over again, especially my children. At the end of last year I reread every entry and was so full of joy that I just sat on my bed and cried. It felt nice to cry tears of joy instead of sadness. It’s nice to see how rich my life is despite my situation. It felt so wonderful that I continued it this year.
This morning I woke up thinking about gratefulness. It is the day for it in America. It’s Thanksgiving. A day to gather with your family and friends and celebrate all that you have. Not the material things but the things that carry you through the good times and bad. Those relationships that get you through your darkness. The laughter and love that surround you when you are with special people or even if you just think of them when they are far away.
I have been blessed so much more than I ever could have imagined. My choir sings a song called Grateful by Hezekiah Walker and it’s stuck in my head today.
Grateful for the things
That you have done
Yes, I’m grateful for the victories we’ve won
I could go on and on and on
About you works
Because I’m grateful, grateful, so grateful
Just to praise you Lord
Flowing from my heart
Are the issues of my heart
I thank God for all I have in my life right at this moment. It’s a beautiful moment. It’s a joyful moment. It’s a time to be grateful.
“The root of joy is gratefulness.” David Steindl-Rast
Tragedy. This is what is being said about the latest school shooting. Even writing “the latest” gives me pause. It suggests there will be another. The students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida want to be the last. As a parent, I’m afraid they won’t be.
When Columbine happened, the country was in shock. Lately, there has been much discussion about the country becoming numb to these horrific events. For me, this one became more personal.
I was sitting in a doctor’s office with my daughter, reading People magazine while we waited. There was an article on the shooting and in it, there are pictures of the victims with a couple of sentences about them. Yes, I shed tears as I read each one and then I read these words:
“The freshman color-guard member and talented artist…”
I couldn’t read further. I couldn’t breathe. Tears started running down my face. That description could be my daughter. Exactly my daughter. Except it wasn’t. It was a description of Gina Montalto, 14 years old. Her picture shows a smiling young woman, full of promise. It’s one thing to “know” it can happen anywhere. It’s another thing to feel it to the core of your being.
My daughter asked me a question and caught me crying. I showed her the article. She gave me that look that says “You’ll cry at anything.” I read her the description of Gina. Eyes wide, she understood.
I couldn’t sleep that night. I found myself crying for a young woman I never met and a family I don’t know. Because sleeping soundly in the next room is my freshman color-guard member and talented artist.
We all need support in some form or another especially when we are under trial or affliction. This past year has been a trial for me and I’ve been asked numerous times if I have a support system or network. I’ve started answering this question with a firm “No.” Why would I do that?
The words system and network do not accurately describe the support that I have. To me, these words suggest that each person supporting me is a node in a net. They connect to me and maybe one or two other people. Their sole purpose is to help me during this time. I believe this is why so many people, women, in particular, have a hard time asking for it.
The act of supporting another human being requires some time and energy. Two things that I find myself in short supply. Now that I need it, I know I am asking others to give me some of their precious time and energy. We all have a finite amount of both, limited as we are by 24 hours in a day and a need for sleep. It’s why people say things like “I don’t want to be a burden.” If long-term support is needed, it could become a drain on those very people that are there for me. They will need support themselves. This is why I use a different description.
I have a support basket. The love and care that has been given to me are woven by each person in my life. They support me but they also support each other. So my west coast best friend will listen to me and then call my mom who will call my brother who will reach out to my east coast best friend who will check in with my work friend who will check on me. They have woven their support around me and cradle me in their love. The nicest part for me is that I don’t worry about burning out a single person because they are leaning on each other.
I can curl into this basket of encouragement created by my parents, my siblings, and my friends to heal my wounded heart and mind. It helps me to release what I no longer serves me and focus my energies on creating a fulfilling future. A place of strength and happiness and a basket full of love.
I’ve been taking a deep, long look at myself lately. Trying to figure out who I really am and if that is who I still want to be. This type of introspection makes me look at specific moments and compare them to past moments. This is the way I do things now but 10 years ago, 25 years ago or 40 years ago I might have done the same thing differently.
Take cooking, for example.
People who know me today have heard of my many cooking and baking fails. I have set fire to many foods like garlic bread, steak, and chicken. The smoke from one particular Fathe’s Day barbecue was so bad that someone called the fire department. It was out by the time they arrived. And no, I did not go out and greet them to tell them it was my fault. My first recollection of setting food on fire was in high school when I was cooking a frozen hamburger in a pan on the stove top. The flames touched the ceiling. Safety Alert: Grease fires and water do not mix.
Baking has its own share of stories like the angel food cake that caught fire or the peanut butter cookies that called for a yellow cake mix. Lemon cake is yellow, right? I don’t suggest you try it. Successful baking usually included some kind of burn somewhere on my body. While I used oven mitts to take a pan out of the oven, when it hit my bare leg I still got burnt.
These are funny stories but they became THE story. I was not a good cook and an even worse baker. I failed at both. When I look back at other kitchen moments in my life, I enjoyed being in the kitchen with my mom and grandmom. The kitchen was where I heard family stories and attempted to learn family recipes. It’s a place of warmth and happiness in my memories. I’ve cooked hundreds, maybe thousands, of meals in my lifetime so far. And the successes outweigh the failures exponentially.
So why and how did this become MY story? So I failed a few times. The definition of fail says “to fall short.” It doesn’t say that you can’t do it. It just says that it didn’t work out THIS TIME. In this case, I allowed someone else to make my failures permanent. Why would I do that? Two reasons. First, he needed to be better than me. Second, when you hear something enough times, you begin to believe it. Until you don’t.
I’m taking back the things that I am good at. In the future, I will remember that failing at something is not the end. Any cook has stories of failures and they all end with “I’ll never ______ again!” For example, I will never in my life use lemon cake to make peanut butter cookies again. And neither should you.
Heartbreak. We all experience it at some point in our lives. It could be the death of a pet, moving away from everything you know, your closest friend betrays you, someone you love dies, or your relationship is ripped apart. Whatever the cause, true heartbreak is physical. The feeling of your heart being ripped out while still beating in your chest. The reaction to that kind of shock is to curl up in a ball and howl in pain. It’s a visceral acknowledgment of loss.
Nearly a year later, I can still physically feel that moment of genuine heartbreak when I choose to revisit that night. It’s as if the wounds to my heart haven’t completely healed and may reopen at any moment. I’ve spent these months walking through my life with a palpable pain that has become noticeably less, but not gone. It still strikes with such ferocity that I am, again, brought to my knees.
This was, and is, not something I could navigate on my own. My immediate reaction was to call my mother but she was on vacation. So I called a friend and drove an hour hoping she could magically make sense of it all. It’s actually a funny story for another time.
I reached for the people closest to me to share my shock and the burden of my agony. I called health services at work to find a therapist NOW. I met her within days of the event. I discovered for myself that the most amazing things happen in the midst of horrific pain. Some will refer to the people that love and support them as their village, their tribe, or their support network. I call them my basket because they support each other even as they are supporting me. I am suspended in their love.
The one year milestone is rushing at me. I have discovered so much about what I thought I had versus what I might have actually had. I’m reflecting on who I was and who I want to be. I have begun to expose those things about myself that I had hidden away in the name of compromise that may have actually been submission.
This kind of anguish grants the opportunity to look inward. And I do.