Most of us are familiar with the phrase “sleep like a baby.” How we long for that kind of blissful, uninterrupted rest. Let's face it: the further we get from those early moments of infancy, the more challenging sleep becomes. By the time we reach adulthood, we regularly wake through the night, mentally reviewing a to-do list or worrying about the “what ifs” in life. It is a nocturnal ritual that so many of us recreate more often than not. I am no exception.
Lately, however, I am roused, not by anxiety, but with gratitude. In the still of the night, I am reminded that I am very much alive, hopeful and optimistic about my tomorrows. I have learned to chase moments with reverent thanksgiving, giving up much of the griping and complaining that I often used to express. It is a huge shift in perception for me, an improvement in the way I view the world.
Illness has somehow cracked open the bubble of superficiality that I once lived in and allowed me to see more clearly. I don’t have the time, nor do I want to spend the energy, fretting about the shallow stuff, which most of it is, by the way. Instead, I understand that every breath is a miracle and every day is an opportunity. This shift in thinking hasn’t come easy, but it has been life-changing.
A few months ago, a friend sent me a lovely book, which focuses on the holy practice pf being thankful, especially for the small, often noticed, things. And while its theme is nothing new, the accompanying challenge to write down every single instance of gratitude was something I had never even considered beyond my failed attempts to journal daily. Because the author presents a beautifully written and compelling argument. I was intrigued with the idea, inspired to give it a try. By the time I had finished reading the last chapter, I had a new notebook and my favorite pen at the ready to capture my fleeting thoughts during the day.
I began with the big things, of course: my faith, which comforts me; my precious family and devoted friends, who support me; my home, which is my safe place; the medical team, who work so tirelessly on my behalf. I glanced over at my old dog, sleeping just inches from where I sat. Certainly, I was grateful for her faithful companionship. Then, I expanded the list with preferred foods, beloved books, and favorite songs. My mind raced with memories of the sun on my bare shoulders and the cool breeze through my hair. I thought of sunrises and sunsets I have seen; places where I have traveled. Within a few minutes, I had several pages filled, each line celebrating something noteworthy. But a funny thing happened once I had listed the obvious, brainstormed all that had ever filled me with joy: I was forced to dig even deeper, to look at the seemingly insignificant with the same delight.
Suddenly, everything became something for which to be grateful. I had a huge epiphany: there is a difference between saying that you are grateful and actually being grateful. We tend to give lip service to the idea of appreciating all that life has to offer without truly living in a state of gratitude. Like the road less traveled, once I began to understand the power of true thankfulness, it made all the difference.
My little book remains open on my kitchen counter, ready to capture my random thoughts throughout the day. Today, the way the sun came through my back doors, illuminating the glittery ornaments on my Christmas tree, made me smile. I want to remember that moment forever, and writing it down somehow elevated that simple experience. Tonight, a fresh salad and grilled chicken tasted like a meal at the Four Seasons. I have come to understand that a well-lived life is not about the big awards for great achievements or the adoration of the crowd. It is about embracing the tiny, mundane experiences which may seem commonplace, but in reality are extraordinary. Woven together, these become the brilliant tapestry of a person’s existence.
The older we get, the faster the days seem to pass. It is no great mystery, just simple mathematics, as every twenty-four hour period, each month and subsequent year represent a smaller and smaller portion of a person’s lifespan. That could be a cause for panic, but I prefer to see it as something to celebrate.