2011 was a really bad year for me.
I left the job from hell in March, literally for the sake of my sanity. Our plans for an alternative income fell through, and I spent most of the year dirt poor. Francis’ old army injury kept getting worse and worse until he could no longer work. Our house was foreclosed upon. My depression started spiraling out of control and, because I had so many good reasons to be sad, I didn’t realize what was happening until it had almost destroyed my relationship.
Worst of all, a very dear friend of mine passed over that August.
Yeah, 2011 sucked.
In spite of all that – or rather, directly because of all that – I learned a very important lesson that year. I learned was gratitude is.
It’s not that I’d never been thankful for kindnesses bestowed on me. I like to think I’ve always given credit where it was due and was not shy in sharing my appreciation.
But it wasn’t until I had been so thoroughly humbled and was completely vulnerable that I really understood.
When we had no money and I needed to see a doctor, we found a free clinic that operated out of a bus and visited our neighborhood once a week. I made an appointment, and expected to spend the entire day there, waiting to get help. In actuality, though there were dozens of people there, the whole operation was incredibly professional. I was at most, fifteen minutes before seeing a doctor. The doctor asked me questions and genuinely seemed interested in my answers. After discussing options, I was given a free prescription and told I could come back if I needed a refill. I felt that I had been treated with more respect and dignity than in many doctor’s offices that I had paid to visit.
These people provided this kind of service for those desperately in need every single day.
I was grateful.
The night Rena died, a volunteer pastor sat with us for hours while we waited for news from the doctor. She sat with us and just talked. Some of it was about Rena – how were we related, what was she like. Most of it was just chatting to keep our minds off of our worries. Not once, though we had told her our religion, did she attempt to proselytize or minimize our beliefs. She talked to us as people of faith, giving our Gods the respect They are due.
When the doctor finally appeared and gave us the terrible news, she sat with us while we cried and, when it was time, gave us a packet of practical information detailing what we’d have to do next. Then she left us alone with our grief, letting us know we could contact her any time we needed to talk.
I was so touched by this. I thought it would be wonderful to be able to provide that kind of comfort to people in need, but I knew I would never have that kind of strength.
And I was so grateful that she did have that strength. That she was there.
When my depression got out of control, I found I was able to visit a county outpatient facility and receive free counseling. When we were so badly off that we couldn’t afford groceries or medicine, several institutions provided help – the Vetran’s administration, the local food bank, county medical assistance, state food stamps.
The depth of gratitude I felt in all these instances, and in several others that year, was unlike anything I had known before. Possibly because the depth of my need was unlike anything I’d known before. It wasn’t simple thankfulness – which is a wonderful thing in itself. Thankfulness, as I see it is a virtue of the mind.
This gratitude was pure emotion, almost primal. To risk sounding even sappier – it made my heart glow.
When my family was in danger, I found the strength to get us the help we needed.
And I’m grateful for that, too. Grateful to my Gods, because I know I wouldn’t have succeeded on my own. And grateful to Francis, who kept pushing me to find help for my illness.
That year has changed the way I live my life.
Now, when someone helps me though they’ve no good reason to, when something goes well, or I feel warm sunshine on my face, or see a smile in my sweetie’s eyes – I can call up that feeling of pure gratitude. I try to remember to be truly grateful to my Gods for the blessings of this life, and to the people around me who give so much of themselves. It isn’t always easy, I get so absorbed in my troubles that I can’t always see the big picture. But when I do, it makes me feel better.
Gratitude can bring a path to joy into the darkest times.