The coffee is exactly the right temperature this morning, and exactly the right color. It is exactly the right flavor, the perfect mixture of bitter and sweet. And the smell of the air on this summer morning is nearly perfect as I sit here taking inventory of my life, the good and the bad, and remember to be ever so grateful for these little things, that are actually big things, the things that set the tone for my day, for my week, the music that accompanies my life.
This is a ritual of mine. It has been for years, starting my day with a few moments of silence, in front of a window, with a cup of coffee and thoughts of gratitude. If I don’t take those few minutes, just a few, every morning, I am off the entire day, I am not myself and I am anything but grateful.
This is not always easy. There have been times when the thoughts of gratitude are harder to come by, times that were so dark I had to reach very deep to find anything I felt grateful about.
At one point, when I was feeling especially good I wrote a list, at the suggestion of a counselor, for the version of me when I am in those dark spaces, things for her to focus on and remember when dark thoughts are so overwhelming that finding anything to be grateful for, anything to be happy about is nearly impossible. That list has come in handy more than once, pulling it out and unfolding it is often a last-ditch effort to pull myself together, drag myself up from the murky waters of depression and out into the light, and it works.
When you can’t change your circumstances you have to change your view. In the same way the mountain does not look nearly as majestic from the bottom as it does once you have climbed to the top, you have to pull yourself up and over each and every boulder, step by step by step, until you’ve tackled it. The mountain is still there, it is still a huge part of your life, but you see everything differently from the top of it. No matter what they tell you, you can’t actually move the mountain, but you can find peace there, if you don’t give up during the long hard climb.
I have no idea when I first discovered this gift of gratitude. Maybe it is leftover from a childhood spent in Catholic school, with guilt filled doctrine and reminders that there is always someone worse off than we are, reminders that life could always be worse, that tragedy always lurks just around the corner. I am actually grateful for that, and for a childhood that was not perfect, that did not turn me into an adult who was so spoiled and self-centered as to be completely oblivious to the suffering of others.
When my children were all very small, and I was still very young, I remember watching them sleep at night and calling on my gratitude to fill me with peace before I slept myself. No matter what our day had held, good or bad, there they all were, well fed and content, warm and safe and healthy. I remember being so grateful to have successfully made it through another day with this responsibility, these tiny, precious lives in my hands.
I felt this sense of overwhelming gratitude this weekend as I watched my oldest daughter marry the man she has been with for almost 12 years. I have always said if I could have constructed the perfect mate for her, if I could have fashioned him like Frankenstein, he would be exactly the way he has always been. Nothing needs changing! I am so grateful for his presence in our lives. I am so grateful for my daughter, who is so self-assured and independent, intelligent and amazing, and I am so grateful that she has found this person to travel through life with, and that the rest of us get to be part of the amazing future they will create.
Parents, these are the rewards for the decades of sacrifice, for the sleepless nights and the empty bank accounts and the overwhelming worry. These are the times you look back and realize why you sacrificed your own life, your own health and your own sanity for those little people whose entire being consumed you until sometimes you weren’t even sure you existed outside of being a mommy or a daddy. Remember, remember those times when you thought your whole identity had been swallowed up and lost and you’d never find your way out of diapers, and dishes, and car pools and school projects and doctor’s appointments and all of the other details that covered and wiped out years of your life like a tsunami, changing the landscape forever.
It turns out it is actually all worth it. The times that you realize this, that you look at your children and think “wow, I helped bring this person into the world,” those are the times you need to focus on, cling to, when things are difficult.
That stubborn toddler turns into a grown, intelligent, caring human being who does things you never imagined possible! They go to college, and join the military, and volunteer around the world and do and see amazing and wonderful things! And when times are tough, they do what needs to be done, they look out for other people and for each other. They are not only smart and beautiful, they are strong and resilient and incredible!
And you find yourself at a wedding, looking at these grown creatures you helped create, these people who actually make the world a better place by just being in it, and you find yourself amazed at the Universe and amazed at your good fortune and so, so very grateful for every single thing that has happened in your life. You find yourself grateful for every single experience that brought you to this place in this moment, with these people.
Believe me; it was not even close to a Norman Rockwell picture, this family of mine. There are Xs and in-laws and former in-laws, lovers and friends and family all jumbled together in a way that makes the Brady Bunch look like aliens from another planet. It was more like a scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, if the mother of the bride had several x husbands, a current boyfriend, her gay best guy friend, her mother and stepmother who are best friends and sitting at the same table, and various in-laws she hadn’t seen in a dozen years, all there together and actually having the time of their lives.
This is a moment I will hold onto, will cling to, when times get rough again, because they always do. This is the moment I’ll look back on to find peace and strength. No, it’s not a traditional looking family by any stretch of the imagination but it’s our family and I’m grateful for it, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
*photo by Cait Wilson Photography