Category Archives: Gratitude

Life is Sweet

Let’s have a moment of music appreciation today. This song got me out of a dark place today. Natalie Merchant, “Life Is Sweet”:

natalie merchant

It’s a pity
it’s a crying shame
who pulled you down again?
how painful it must be
to bruise so easily inside

It’s a pity
it’s a downright crime
but it happens all the time
you wanna stay little daddy’s girl
wanna hide from the vicious world outside

Call it seasonal depression. Or emotional fatigue. Or denial. I call it “dragging the wagon.” Today I was dragging the wagon behind me and in that wagon is every brave thing I’ve ever wanted to do and left short, every pound I’ve failed to lose, every person I ever disappointed, every dream I had that didn’t come true.

So who pulled me down again? The bruise inside, the one I work on and sometimes think I’m getting past. The fear of putting my heart into the vicious world and getting it shredded. The fear of running back for comfort to my daddy and him not being there.

Three friends have lost their daddies in the past week. And the story I haven’t been telling for a couple of months now is that I almost lost mine. It scares me so much that I can’t look at it straight on. My dad was very close to dying. He’s back now. He called me the other day to thank me for the orchid I brought when he was in the rehab place. We’ll eat turkey next week and be grateful.

I’m sad for Heather and Jonathan and Laura who are trying to find words to say goodbye and thank you and good job, Dad.

But don’t cry
know the tears’ll do no good
so dry your eyes

They told you life is hard
it’s misery from the start
it’s dull and slow and painful

I tell you life is sweet
in spite of the misery
there’s so much more
be grateful

10700549_10204326604998278_6333280427733818279_oThis weekend, I took the kids down to the playfort in the backyard and got choked up when I saw that the cherry tree had dropped all of its leaves overnight. One day, a globe of golden whispering leaves and the next day, a silent carpet over the frosty ground. Some trees, like my neighbor’s sugar maple, take weeks to shed their leaves, so long that we get kind of used the change. Others–whoosh and they’re gone in the first hard freeze.

That cherry tree was a wedding gift from my coworkers when Richard and I married. It stayed in a pot for months, waiting on the soil to soften up with spring. I got around to planting it after Richard died. It’s been especially precious to me now that my babies play in its shade. Time and sunlight and being grounded–that’s all it needed to grow.

For almost ten years, I’ve grown used to the miracle of that tree. Pink pom poms in spring, pale green leaves through the summer, then the golden show of fall. And every year, the shock of the day when it’s just gone. Bare and spare. Reminding me how suddenly everything can change.

Who do you believe?
who will you listen to
who will it be?
it’s high time that you decide
in your own mind

Dragging the wagon. Carrying all this fear and sadness around and not writing it out. Afraid to write it wrong or write it right. Trying to speak my truth but the hand over my mouth is my own. That’s why I found myself crying at my desk at lunchtime. “Life Is Sweet” came on Pandora and it took me back all those years to when I first loved this song and had no earthly idea how true it is. I sat there and cried because I’m so tired of wanting things to be different but not making them different. Time to make up my own mind.

mapleThere’s a red maple outside my office window, and as it’s been losing its scarlet leaves this week, more sunshine gets through. I sat there today next to the window, half of my tired body warmed in the light and half of it shivering. Natalie’s words calling out to me from my phone.

They told you life is hard

it’s misery from the start
it’s dull and slow and painful

I tell you life is sweet
in spite of the misery
there’s so much more
be grateful

Who do you believe?
who will you listen to
who will it be?

I closed my eyes. In the dark quiet there behind my eyelids, the left eye caught a reddish glow from the sun shining through. The right eye looked out into the darkness.

It’s high time you decide
it’s time you make up your own sweet little mind

With my eyes still closed, I turned towards the sun. I sat still and let it warm me. Just like my cherry tree, “Time and sunlight and being grounded–that’s all I need to grow.”

They told you life is long
be thankful when it’s done
don’t ask for more
you should be grateful

But I tell you life is short
be thankful because before you know
it will be over

Cause life is sweet
and life is also very short
your life is sweet

If you are the praying type, say a peaceful one for Ted and Heather, Stephen and Jonathan, Gary and Laura. And say a thankful one for Sam and Ashley.

Daddy, I’m glad you’re back. I love you and I’m grateful for you. Save me some turkey.

Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast

alice0042dspng“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

I was in a funk this morning, so I started looking for Six Impossible Things to Believe Before Breakfast. It wasn’t difficult. It only took me about a half an hour:

  1.  Sunday night, I woke up and glanced at the clock. It was 2:22. I remember laughing and rolling over to go back to sleep. Monday night, I woke up and looked at the clock. It was 3:33! I thought, “Oh, mysteries of life” and fell back to sleep. I woke up again and immediately looked at the clock. It was 4:40 and all I could think was, “Dangit! Four more minutes and I would have nailed it!”

deer-212737_12802.  As we backed out of the driveway and turned up the hill, I stopped the car and said, “Carlos, look! Two deer!” Two small does stopped at the corner of Miss Sarah’s yard to look at us with their ears perked up. We didn’t appear too threatening–just another clunky metal purring thing with heavy round feet. They tiptoed across the road and into Mrs. Hodgson’s azaleas. Carlos whispered, “deer!”

10658710_10204082009963555_7281379235282340952_o3.  When I got back home after dropping him off at school, I stepped out on the deck. There’s a sourwood tree out there that I tried to cut down many years ago. My saw was too small and my arms too weak, so I gave up on it. Now, the sourwood tree grows up and over the deck, giving us shade from the heat, a perch for chickadees, and brilliant red leaves in the fall. As I admired the leaves, I remembered–leaves don’t “turn” colors in the fall. The colors that we see now have always been there, but the green chlorophyll that the plants need to make fuel overpowers the color during the spring and summer. When the year turns to the months of rest, the chlorophyll dies away and we can see the colors that have been there all along.

10679498_10204082009723549_2392038021595593732_o4.  Then my eye fell down to a row of shells that we found on our vacation this year. Oysters, whelks, conchs. As they bleach in the sun, all those plain grayish shells start to show their colors too. Pink and brown, orange and cream. From the bottom of the sea to right here on my deck. Then I remembered that half of my state used to be at the bottom of the ocean a long time ago. And the water in that river that runs through the backyard is the same water, recycled from the ancient ocean, the Mississippi, the Ganges, the Jordan, the Nile. Nothing is so far away after all.

10733867_10204082009443542_5464091185153558402_o5.  I went back inside to load the dishwasher. And who do I spy outside the kitchen window? It’s another writing spider. This one is much smaller and browner–the male of the species. If all the pretty yellow girls are “Charlotte,” I decide he will be named “Charlemagne.” Welcome, spinner, to our space. When I stepped back outside to get a better look at him, the dewdrops made his web sparkle in the gray morning haze.

10661655_10203813515051350_6537100019182294571_o6.  Time to make breakfast. I stirred together some oatmeal and milk, then added a dash of salt. I diced up a Honeycrisp apple to throw in before cooking it. I put a sliver of that apple in mouth and the flavor was so perfectly what I wanted at that moment, that my first thought was, “I don’t care if they cost $5 a pound. I’m going to buy these every week until they’re gone. This is why I went to graduate school–to afford these apples.”

Six impossible things before breakfast. Impossibly sweet, impossibly strange, impossibly magical.

I sat down on the couch and booted up my notebook computer while my oatmeal cooled. In a house built of bricks in 1961, on a hill that was carved by that river over a few million years, under an impossibly blue October sky from which leaves of red and orange fall with a whisper, I tapped my finger to a glass screen and connected myself to every other part of the world. I saw Catie standing in a field of orange marigolds in Bhutan, the cinnamon rolls that Beth’s daughter had made in France, and Lucy’s brand new baby down in Dublin.

It’s ALL impossible yet so precious and close. And here we are, right in the middle of it.

This Blue Sky Is Not Beautiful Because…

As I walked between buildings this morning with my face in my smartphone and my head filled with project deadlines, housekeeping minutiae, goals and dreams and regrets that make up the miasma that sublets my head, a red rosebud caught my attention.  I turned off the phone for a second.

I took a deeper breath and pushed it down through my tense muscles, all the way to my feet. My feet sent back the message that I was walking on a pebbled path made of gentle curves, passing under five old oak trees.  My brain wafted down the word “psithurism”–the word for the sound that wind makes in trees.  I couldn’t help but smile.

At the end of the path, I stopped on the sidewalk to let a car pass, even though I had the right of way at the crosswalk.  Reflexively, my mind clicked over to berating the car’s driver for not seeing me…but I stopped and chose to breathe again.  I lifted my eyes, and this is what I saw:blue sky

Such a surprise, to SEE the sky and accept with grateful wonder that I get to live in a place on a day in a moment when that color is right there for me to see.  No charge, no ticket required, no restrictions apply.

At that moment, what words popped into my head?

“This blue sky is not beautiful BECAUSE of anything.  It just IS. It is and it is beautiful.

Not because I have a job.

Not because my clothes match and smell nice.

Not because my son’s potty training is on or off track.

Not because the scale said a certain number.

Not because I met that deadline.

Not because I wrote today or slept last night or ate the right balance of carbs to protein or remembered to take the school supplies to the teacher.  All those things that fill my mind have nothing whatsoever to do with this blue sky that brings me such delight.

And no self-respecting Georgia Girl could dive into a sky like that without humming “Blue Sky” by The Allman Brothers.  Here’s one of only five recordings of “Blue Sky” from the glory days of the brothers, the band, the Betts.  This version was recorded live in 1971 at SUNY Stonybrook.  It’s long, because it was the 70s.  Worth every single second–breathe your way through it instead of playing Candy Crush or worrying about carbs.

“You’re my blue sky, you’re my sunny day.  Lord y’know it makes me high when you turn your love my way. Turn your love my way…” Click the photo of the band if you’d like to go back to that day:


A Sentence That’s Always True

Last night, just after I had taken my antibiotics and some ibuprofen to battle strep throat, I wrote my gratitude list for the day.  My body felt gross all over from the fever and my throat felt like raw glass every time I swallowed.  So in my list, I wrote “I can go to the doctor when I need to,” and “G took care of the kids so I could rest.”  I added a few more lines about the kids and my excitement over BlogHer.  For the last line in my gratitude list, I wrote, “This too shall pass.”ring

When the throat pain woke me up at 5 a.m. that morning, I thought it was postnasal drip.  By lunchtime, when the pain continued to escalate, I remembered our pediatrician saying, “A sore throat without a cough is strep,” I didn’t wait any longer.  Went straight to the doc in a box and felt great relief when I walked out with a positive strep test and a prescription.  I know that I will feel better in about 24 hours.  I know now what I’m dealing with, I’ve taken the actions that I can take.  Now I rest in the knowledge that “this too shall pass.”

But where’s the comfort in “this too shall pass?”  This proverb is often attributed to King Solomon, but it also appears in the works of Sufi poets.  I’ve heard it told that King Solomon asked his greatest wise men to think of a sentence that is always true, under every condition and in every situation.  The wise men, after much consideration, presented him with the sentence “This too shall pass.”  Solomon had the sentence inscribed on a ring so that each day, he could turn the ring and remind himself of something that was always true.

We most often hear this phrase in tough times, when we remind ourselves that the pain of today will pass.  The sore throat will heal.  The teenager will come around.  The job situation will resolve itself.  The budget won’t always be this tight.  Sleep will come tomorrow night.

Do we remember to say it on good days too?  As my son runs towards me to give me a hug, do I put down my phone so I can hug him with both arms?  When my daughter wants me to play some complicated game that she’s invented herself, do I make the time?  When the frogs are croaking outside, do I sit and listen?  Because this too shall pass.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned with time, with grief, with joy–is that this too shall pass.  The great lie that my depression used to tell me is “you will always feel like this.”  That’s not true.  The great lie that anxiety tells me is “you will always feel like this.”  Nope, it passes.  Physical pain, emotional pain.  It passes.

Every night, I sneak into my son’s room after he’s asleep to run my fingers through his hair.  Because this too shall pass.

Sunday Sweetness–Summer Is Coming

Today, Vivi asked me, “How many weeks before we clean out the pool so we can go swimming?”  I told her about two more weeks.  We’ll see.  But the question made me remember last summer, and this piece I wrote about joy and gratitude and a swimming pool.

Click into this swimming pool if you want to read the story!


There Is This

there is this

New Year’s Eve finds me wistful.  Contemplative.  To be honest, I’ve never liked New Year’s Eve much.  There’s such expectation that it will Be. Big. Fun.  I never seem to be able to be present, even when I’m all dressed in sequins and have a glass of champagne in my hand.  That plodding moment when we count down to an exact moment on the clock…then we find that the exact second passes and the one after it is just another second in the billions we live and no more “new” than the one before it.

Years are created by humans.  The changing of one to the next?  Sometimes leaves me feeling anticlimactic.

Or maybe it’s the cold medicine.  I dunno.

I remember one New Year’s Eve in particular, the last one I celebrated with Richard, six months before he was diagnosed with leukemia.  We had just bought a house and moved in together.  He had finished up a grueling semester of teaching.  Instead of going somewhere new on our traditional trip between Christmas and New Year’s, we decided to go somewhere familiar instead.  We returned to The Reefs in Bermuda for a week of pink sand and drinks in the hot tub.  Ahhhhh.

It should have been relaxing, but I had a Plan.

We had the love.  We had the respect.  We had the house.  We had the commitments.  According to my plan, it was time to get Married, by jinkies.  And what better place to expect a proposal than on a pink sand beach at midnight on New Year’s Eve?  I had it all planned out.  In MY mind.  I bought the black velvet dress with the sequins scattered across the shoulders.  I bought the beautifully ridiculous shoes.  We dined and we drank champagne.  We danced on the veranda to “At Last.”  We wore silly hats.

And instead of being present for all that fun, I was wrapped up in a big ball of resentment because the hours kept ticking by and he hadn’t asked me to marry him even though this was the PERFECT setting and….GAH.  He was blowing it!

My mood improved after midnight when I finally let my plan go.  And got out of those stupid shoes.  We put on sweats and walked down to the beach.  He smoked a Cuban cigar and I drank a last glass of champagne.  Not such a bad night after all, there under the stars and by the sea–once I got out of what was supposed to be and looked around at what was.

A gray-haired man in a tuxedo came down to the beach all alone.  He carried one gold balloon close to his chest.  We wished him a happy new year.  He returned the wish.  He held up the balloon, shrugged, then he started to cry.  “I lost my brother, David, eleven years ago.  Damn AIDS.  I promised him that I’d always remember him and send him a balloon whenever there was a good party that he had to miss.  Seems silly, right?”  I put my hand on his arm as the ocean wind thumped the gold balloon against his chest.  Not silly at all.

The three of us stood there close together while he told us about David.  He held the balloon aloft and said, “Happy New Year, David!  I love you.”  As he let it go and we watched the balloon sail heavenward, I raised my glass and Richard lifted his cigar.  I gave the man a long hug and he returned to the hotel.

I’ve been thinking about that night today.  About David and the gold balloon.  About Richard, who did ask me to marry him, but not that night.  How we live so much of our lives outside of the present, in memory or in plans.  It all reminded me of this poem by Barbara Ras, which I give to you now as a New Year’s wish:


You Can’t Have It All

by Barbara Ras

But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands
gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old finger
on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back.
You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look
of the black dog, the look that says, If I could I would bite
every sorrow until it fled, and when it is August,
you can have it August and abundantly so. You can have love,
though often it will be mysterious, like the white foam
that bubbles up at the top of the bean pot over the red kidneys
until you realize foam’s twin is blood.
You can have the skin at the center between a man’s legs,
so solid, so doll-like. You can have the life of the mind,
glowing occasionally in priestly vestments, never admitting pettiness,
never stooping to bribe the sullen guard who’ll tell you
all roads narrow at the border.
You can speak a foreign language, sometimes,
and it can mean something. You can visit the marker on the grave
where your father wept openly. You can’t bring back the dead,
but you can have the words forgive and forget hold hands
as if they meant to spend a lifetime together. And you can be grateful
for makeup, the way it kisses your face, half spice, half amnesia, grateful
for Mozart, his many notes racing one another towards joy, for towels
sucking up the drops on your clean skin, and for deeper thirsts,
for passion fruit, for saliva. You can have the dream,
the dream of Egypt, the horses of Egypt and you riding in the hot sand.
You can have your grandfather sitting on the side of your bed,
at least for a while, you can have clouds and letters, the leaping
of distances, and Indian food with yellow sauce like sunrise.
You can’t count on grace to pick you out of a crowd
but here is your friend to teach you how to high jump,
how to throw yourself over the bar, backwards,
until you learn about love, about sweet surrender,
and here are periwinkles, buses that kneel, farms in the mind
as real as Africa. And when adulthood fails you,
you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond
of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas
your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept.
There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother’s,
it will always whisper, you can’t have it all,
but there is this.


May you live in the New Year, and what’s left of the one we already have.  May you breathe deep and know that you are loved, the second before midnight and the second after it.

Make a Resolution To Practice Gratitude

I write about gratitude a lot, and gratitude journals in particular.  Several of you have mentioned starting the practice for yourselves…so how about now?  Why not add gratitude journaling to your New Year’s resolutions?  

This week, when you’re out shopping for gifts for others, wander on over to the bookstore and buy yourself a beautiful journal.  Put it by your bed.  Each night, jot down at least 5 things that you appreciated from that day.  It doesn’t have to be a complete sentence or punctuated or spelled correctly.  This journal is for you.  

Here’s an early blog post called “Gratitude Grows” that I wrote about the stack of journals by my bed.  It’s been growing there since 2004–that explains the dust.  Richard was still alive in the bottom of the stack.  The purple one is from the year we bought this house.  The red one holds the year he died.  I met G and my children higher up.  The stack has grown by one more since I took this picture.  

gratitude fixed