Sunday, July 29, 2012

Gratitude works like magic

My friend Cynthia, who died last December, is my guide when it comes to a life lived in gratitude. She’d known emotional challenges and the grief that comes with infertility. There were other sorrows for her along the way. And her great challenge, at the end of her life, was in dying this painful death from cancer. Cancer strips a person of everything in the end: physical command, dignity, choice. But it can never strip a person of their essential essence, if the person can find some way of living in grace to the end, as Cynthia did.

Even in the face of the raw strip-down of cancer, Cynthia was able to live in gratitude. A few nights before her death, I stayed with her so that her husband could go home and get some rest.

I sat beside her bed in the dimly lighted room, feeding her ice chips and talking quietly to her. As I fed her she stopped munching, looked directly at me and whispered, “this is magic.” And it was. Cynthia’s sense of wonder and gratitude, even mired as we were in pain and grief, permeated the moment and brought us joy.

Each moment holds the possibility of something remarkable. A moment may be steeped in fear, grief, or resistance. And it can still hold gratitude. Life is so often not one thing or another thing. It is often, I find, full of moments that are fear AND joy; or sorrow AND wonder; or rebellion AND gratitude. It is crazy and mixed up that way. But the thing is that gratitude itself has a calming, grounding, and steadying quality to it that makes even the most trying experiences endurable.

The ability to find the remarkable in the moment, as Cynthia did, is the practice of gratitude. I claim gratitude to be magical because it brings relief from obsession with self. And relief from self opens the doors for community, freedom from self-absorption, and an ability to experience the wonders of each moment.

Mary Oliver so ably captures this sense of wonder-in-the-moment in her poem The Swan:

Across the wide waters
  something comes
    floating—a slim
      and delicate

ship, filled
  with white flowers—
    and it moves
      on its miraculous muscles

as though time didn’t exist
  as though bringing such gifts
    to the dry shore
      was a happiness

almost beyond bearing.
  And now it turns its dark eyes,
    it rearranges
      the clouds of its wings,

it trails
  an elaborate webbed foot,
    the color of charcoal.
      Soon it will be here.

Oh, what shall I do
  when that poppy-colored beak
    rests in my hand?
      Said Mrs. Blake of the poet:

I miss my husband’s company—
  he is so often
    in paradise.
      Of course! the path to heaven

doesn’t lie down in flat miles.
  It’s in the imagination
    with which you perceive
      this world,

and the gestures
  with which you honor it.
    Oh, what will I do, what will I say, when those
                  white wings
            touch the shore?

Peace in this life is found in gratitude in the moment. “It’s in the imagination with which you perceive this world, and the gestures with which you honor it.” Thank you, Mary Oliver, for the reminder.

1 comment:

  1. Janet, yes, Cynthia was such a lovely example of gratitude. Her appreciation for people and experiences shone like a brilliant light to so many. She was a real dream, wasn't she?
    :-) Ann