Thursday, November 4, 2010

Yes, again with the gratitude

Two different people, unbeknownst to each other, commented in the past couple of weeks that I write too much about gratitude. “We get it, you’re a really good person and you’re always appreciative of everything,” said one of them. The other was more terse: she simply scrawled in the margin of a draft I had asked her to review, next to a passage about how grateful I was for the blessings of the present, “Enough already.”

And yet it’s hard to internalize this particular critique, the way I might if, for example, someone were to say (quite rightly) that I should use fewer adverbs or not always give examples in sets of three. When I get those kinds of criticisms, I tend to incorporate the recommendations swiftly into my writing. But cutting back on adverbs seems to be easier than cutting back on gratitude.

So once again, I find myself thinking about gratitude. Because my two critics were right: it is something I tend to, well, dwell on. But often I write about gratitude for big things, like an absence of current terrorist attacks or the fact that my children are so physically and mentally healthy. I still sometimes catch myself overlooking the smaller reasons for gratitude. Two days ago, I posted a comment on Twitter about starting my day with a two-mile run and then a cup of coffee. Someone I don’t even know, writing under the umbrella of a sports company, posted this response to my note: “A two-mile run followed by some coffee sounds like a perfect start to the week. Keep it up.”

My initial response, I’m sorry to admit, was a bit of an eye-roll. Keep it up? My running streak is now three years and almost three months long. Going on a two-mile run and then drinking a cup of hot coffee is how approximately 95% of my days begin. I’ve run every day for the past 1,180 days. I don’t really need to be urged to “Keep it up.”

But then I read it again, and this time stopped on the first sentence: “A two-mile run followed by some coffee sounds like a perfect start to the week.” Yes. It is a perfect start to the week. And it’s how most of my weeks start. Also how they middle and end.

But it’s little things like this that I sometimes forget to observe with gratitude. My days start with a run and coffee: what could be better? My workdays consist of sitting in a sunny kitchen in a quiet house writing for pay: what could be better? Most evenings, those when I don’t have meetings or social commitments or errands to do, I change into sweats after dinner and read to my kids: what could be better?

My mother told me an informative story recently. She receives her mail at the post office rather than by delivery. Because the paper recycling piles up so fast at home, with all the catalogs, envelopes and inserts that arrive in the mail day after day, she throws whatever she doesn’t want into the recycling bin at the post office before she leaves. Sometimes she even reads the mail while standing at the post office counter and leaves it in the recycling there. (I have a post office box also and do all of these same things.)

Last week, she received a form letter with the results of a routine mammogram. The letter said that the results showed no cause for concern and she should come back in a year. She told me she dropped it in the recycling bin…and then rethought the action. “That’s important,” she thought. “A healthy mammogram? That’s not just a piece of paper to send to the shredder. That’s a big deal. That’s a piece of paper worth bringing home.” It wasn’t just a matter of being generally grateful for good health, which, like me, she always consciously is; it was this particular piece of paper bearing good news: something small and tangible for which to be thankful.

So I’m holding on to that Twitter post because it reminds me that even though I start nearly every day with running and coffee, it’s still a nearly perfect way to start the day. I’m grateful for it. And yes, I say that a lot. But my coffee mug is like my mom’s slip of paper: nothing good should go randomly into the shredder, literally or metaphorically. So I’ll keep that post to remind myself of just how grateful I should be, yet again.

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