It is confession time. As much as I hate to admit it, because it is one of my pet peeves, I sometimes do that thing where I use the misery of someone else as a catalyst for an examination and appreciation for my own life. Certainly examining and appreciating life is not a bad thing. But I hate it when a death is died, a job is taken away, a sickness begins to poison a body, or something else terrible happens and a person’s reaction is to say to themselves or others “I’m going to hold my loved ones closer/appreciate the fact that I have a job/stop taking my health for granted.” All those things are good things to do for ourselves and others. I just prefer a gratitude that is not carried in on the back of someone else’s grief and loss.
Gratitude plays a significant role in my life. I try to cultivate it regularly in the mundane and the extraordinary. There are times, though, when I simply mess up. I fill my time with lesser commitments and fill my head with unhelpful thoughts that co-opt the mental energy I need for the people and tasks that I want to be a priority. I forget to be intentional about life. I choose the easiest path instead of the wisest one. Joy begins to lose out to self-imposed pressures and, when someone asks me how life is, I say “Busy!” as if it is a badge of honor. I forget to be grateful.
The jolt of someone else’s sadness snaps me back to attention when I have lived on autopilot for too long. I hate that it does that. I hate that I would turn someone else’s heartache into a reminder for me to be more grateful, more patient, more mindful, more kind, more appreciative. But grief has a way of snapping us out of our mindless movement through the days. It cries out to us, begging us to remember that this life is it. It’s the one we get. And this life should be lived boldly, joyfully, courageously, and fully.
The most consistent nugget of wisdom passed on from those who have made it through the darkest days following the death of a cherished one, a gut-wrenching diagnosis, or any of the other myriad bogeymen in the closet of life is to cherish each moment because life as we know it is indescribably tenuous and can release horrors we never imagined in a split second. If I could pass on a nugget of what I hope passes for wisdom it would be this: Cherish your family and friends, celebrate your health and wellness, be grateful for your job, but not because you fear those will be snatched from you. Live gratefully because something (hopefully many things) in your life is good. Live boldly because every moment you are alive is a moment in which you get to choose your path. Live happily because you are, quite simply, able to do so.
My hope is that I will live so mindfully, so gratefully, that I will not need grief to shock my mind back into an intentional, appreciative rhythm. Some day soon I hope someone will ask me how life is and my first impulse will not be to answer “Busy!” but rather to answer “Fabulous. My goodness, my life is fabulous.”