A friend visits and teaches me about gratitude

A friend visits and teaches me about gratitude

A friend sits at my kitchen table and tells me about their bad stuff. (I don’t mind writing about my bad stuff but I’m not at liberty to write about other people’s bad stuff so I will sacrifice details with generalization.)

My friend talks openly about their bad stuff.  And even though their bad stuff pushed them to the brink of self-destruction my friend repeats how “grateful” they are.

I was in Target the other day and saw a woman’s sweatshirt, hanging on a silver display rack with “Grateful” splayed in cursive font across the chest.

In fact, the more I look, the more I listen, “gratitude” is everywhere. And I have my concerns.

I fear gratitude has become commercialized. Like it’s in style to be grateful. And if your not grateful your wearing last years clothes.

I’m not saying gratitude is a bad thing. Of course, gratitude is a wonderful thing. Gratitude is one of the most powerful emotions, an elemental force of self-improvement.

But I’m worried gratitude might be dressed as a fad or a passing indulgent saved for the holiday season.

My friend clears their throat and talks about their darkest night.

“Though I was alone, I saw the people I love. Like they were there with me, waving their hands,urging me to get help.”

My friend talks about not just naming things you’re grateful for, but seeing them– drawing pictures in your mind.

My friend takes a breath, finds courage, and continues describing the people they are grateful for. I can feel their gratitude they way you can feel your child’s pain. Blood mixed with blood, a shared human ache.

Real gratitude does not need or want attention. Like blood, real gratitude pumps from the heart. And real gratitude, like any form of self-improvement, takes knuckle-splitting work.

So as I sit here, on a cold December night, thinking about the special people in my life, something turns inside. I see Cindy and our three children. Each a home movie episode I play in a secret theater in my mind when I need to be reminded to be grateful.

Episode 1: Cindy and I sit at a round table in a Las Vegas casino, like we’re at a wedding, except we’re at a convention for people with brain illnesses. A neurologist stands at a podium with a brain shown on a screen behind him.  I’m not listening. I’m looking around the room.  Wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, cranes, and I’m terrified. I want to push from the table, run out into the desert, and never come back. I look to my right and Cindy is calmly sitting there–taking notes. If she is scared she doesn’t show it. She is listening to the doctor, taking notes, and it’s apparent she loves me, probably more than I love myself.

Episode 2: Haley sits across from me at the kitchen table in the evening after dinner. We’re both writing stories. There comes moment where I can’t find the words– which happens a lot. I look up from the screen and see Haley has the words. Her pencil moves in fast, little circles. The words pour out of her. She’s a writer. She’s in a place where I want to be. She hits the bottom on the page, turns it, looks up, smiles at me, drops her eyes to the blank page, imagination sails her wings, and continues writing. It’s a little moment but as a father and writer– it’s beautiful.

Episode 3: Recently, I told you that despite his fear, Chase displayed moral courage at school. He brought a serious situation to the attention of his teacher. The next day he cried. He was afraid to go to school, afraid of retaliation. When he arrived at he school he found the situation diffused and he was safe. What I didn’t tell you was–he texted me from his teacher’s cell phone that morning.

The text read: “Dad I’m ok. I love you. It’s Chase.”

It’s the best text message I ever received.

Episode 4: This one makes me laugh. Dylan comes home from school and tells me he got an “S” in math (an “S” is equivalent to a “C”). When I asked him what happened, he looks at me with 6 year old eyes and says, “It’s not my fault. I don’t have 11 fingers.”

My friend smiles, leaves, and it occurs to me gratitude is not a fad or a fashion statement.

In our materialistic culture, tis the season, to want and need more yet in this craving, we fail to acknowledge and appreciate the meaningful things in our lives that mark all seasons. And so cultivating real gratitude becomes a vital practice for us Target shoppers.

Because deliberate gratitude practice transcends into a much needed prayer, a warm church with the lights on and the doors held open on the darkest of nights.

Be well,


If you liked this post, check out: The four words I’m thankful for

For me, this whole writing business began when a doctor looked at an MRI of my brain, then at the floor, then hard into my eyes and said, “You should be dead.”

“Sunflower” photo taken by Mary S.

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