Once upon a time on Facebook I accepted “the Gratitude Challenge” (listing things you are grateful for every day for a certain number of days). I asked to be delivered from the obligatory list of all the usual things that most anyone would be grateful for including me – things I am grateful for on a daily basis: my family, friends, good health, food, creature comforts. Instead I wanted to take the time to consider things that I am grateful for but mostly don’t think about. And so I explored gratitude from the place of just breathing and being. My list still stands:
- Spiders- yes, I said, spiders. Not the ones that crawl or fall on me – those I am decidedly NOT grateful for. However, I am grateful for the rest of them in all their scary and beautiful forms. I am grateful for the work they do in the world – keeping insects in check; for the intricate webs they weave that catch dew and glisten in sunlight; for the hieroglyphics of writing spiders who inspired Charlotte of the famed children’s book; for those who inspired the terror of Shelob of Hobbit fame; for the glorious colors of all the large garden spiders that have captured my attention as well as my daughter’s and given us quiet moments reveling in nature; for the laughter I enjoy as my macho son-in-law totally freaks out when he even thinks a spider is in the room. And I ask forgiveness from the God of Spiders for the lives of those I have taken when they had the misfortune to terrorize me by hopping suddenly or hiding under a rock I needed to move. I apologize for my intolerance.
- For all the whirring, singing insects of summer whose sound is so much a part of the Carolina landscape that I often fail to notice but on a walk with Lollipop I heard them and really listened. They reminded me of so many other summer days – enjoying the relief of a breeze while working hard at a tobacco barn; walking down a hot sandy path and stopping to bury my toes down to find coolness; eating fried chicken at a church picnic; lying on the grass watching the clouds make pictures.
- For leaves on trees and even when they’re not; when they are mostly yellow buds in Spring; when they are lush and green in Summer; when they are heavy with rain; when they change into gold or red or orange or brown; when they dance with the wind in the chill of Autumn; when they swirl in the rain; when they lie dried and brown and spent. My favorite smell is the air in October after a rain on fallen leaves.
- Birds and all their sounds – melodic trills, sad refrains, cries of terror, the way they fill our lives with a music that paints the landscape. For the magic of their flight – as they soar and swoop, ride a current of air so calmly, trusting feathers, wings and wind. I am grateful for the fascination they have conjured in us since ancient times which spurred humans to take risks (like Icarus) and pursue dreams (like DaVinci). I am grateful for their inspiration – they have been muse to countless poets, songwriters, authors and painters. Jonathan Livingston Seagull was a favorite book and movie. I apologize to them for the humans who want to ‘own’ air space and for humans who have taken weapons into their sacred sky.
- Candles and the ambiance they provide – at birthday and holiday celebrations, on window sills, patios, dining tables, mantle pieces, kitchen counters, on altars in votive cups or candelabras for remembering and honoring and praying, softly flickering, gently lighting the way….
- Rain – soft mists, light drizzles, drops so big they hurt when they pelt your skin as you run for cover, and rain pouring like rushing streams from dark clouds. The sound of it on the roof in a rainstorm. Rain that makes puddles everywhere. Rain that people complain about and pray for. Rain that washes the world clean. Rain that nourishes the earth. Rain that quenches our thirst. Rain on the wind – the way it smells before it arrives and the way it smells after it has gone to some other place.
- Rocks and stones – big ones that you can climb on and over or wander into; little ones that you can put into your pocket; mysterious quartz crystals, strong jasper, lovely ruby, elegant agate, romantic amethyst……..They don’t have to be polished or even have a geological name – they can be flat or round; big or small. Folks who have ridden in my car may have spied my latest find from a walk. If you rummaged through my pockets or purse, you might find one hidden there. They seem to call my name as they did my mother’s. She left a wooden bowl full of them and I also found them tucked in her pockets and drawers. They ground me – reminding me of Mother Earth – that she is old and wise and to be revered. I am grateful for her gifts.
- Crayons – nothing smells better than opening a brand new box of 64 Crayola crayons. What an inspiration to a budding artist – no matter what age. The smell and the names of the colors make me positively giddy with delight – burnt sienna, magenta, mahogany, midnight blue, orchid, thistle…..i am grateful for the hours they gave me to spend with my mother, drawing and coloring and talking; to spend with my little brother, lavishing lessons and love on him; to spend with my friends, laughing and dreaming; to spend with myself…..imagining possibilities.
- Being……and especially when I am completely aware of being ……being alive and in the moment – not thinking about the past, reliving it, agonizing over it, wishing for what might have been, wallowing in some unpleasantness – not thinking about the future – worrying about it, fretting over it, mulling possibilities over and over…..but just being in the moment – whatever that moment might be – chaotic or pleasant; sad or joyful – whether I am just being with my family or weeding my garden; weeping at a graveside or watching waves crash; washing the dishes or eating an orange. I am grateful for being in the moment of my life and appreciating its fullness.
- Books – biographies, novels, historical fiction, science fiction, how-to, self-help, poetry…..lined in stately rows on shelves; waiting on a bedside table with a bookmark and a cup of tea; stuffed into a beach bag; stacked on a table with reading glasses and a pen ready for writing in the margins. I have stepped into the new age and admit with a sigh that I own a Kindle. But there is nothing quite like opening the cover of a book and sinking in, soaking up the words and ideas and turning page after page until I am thoroughly satisfied.
- Clouds – in all their formations – large and puffy, thin and wispy; clouds white as whipped cream, nearly black before a storm and all the colors they become with the rising or setting sun reflected in their droplets. Clouds that look like a bag stuffed with cotton balls. Clouds that elegantly swirl across the night sky. Those that float across the sky morphing from one shape to another – dragon to rabbit; mermaid to crone. Clouds that hover between blue mountain peaks or over a quiet pond in early morning. Even those clouds that I can walk or drive through. I am grateful for the clouds that remind me of the sky outside my grandmother’s kitchen window on a winter morning or standing in the garden with my daddy at twilight. I am grateful for the gifts clouds hold: rain…..or snow.
- The web – and I don’t mean the internet…..and I’m not talking about spiders either . I mean the web of connection that links us to one another and everything in the Universe. It is the web of energy that we can feel when we stop and quiet ourselves. Often we are too busy to notice it. Sometimes it is uncomfortable to think about because it means that we have responsibilities beyond our usual selfish focus – a responsibility to be good stewards of the earth, to acknowledge the rights of animals to live well and to honor our fellow man with kindness and tolerance. I am caught short when I remember that I am connected to folks that I might not even like – perhaps the person who just cut me off in traffic this morning; the person holding a cardboard sign asking for food; the grump in the grocery line with me. Deep inside I know that I am more like my fellow man that I am different. Each of us is connected by this invisible, invincible energy. I am grateful for this connection.
- Tea – herbal, green or black – steaming in a fragile china cup that belonged to my mother; in a sturdy travel mug riding with me in the car; iced in a tall glass with a wedge of lemon on the side. Assam is my favorite black tea to enjoy hot and with milk as I welcome the day. Green with lemongrass and honey invigorates me. Chamomile soothes my weary spirit. And every Southern woman knows that iced tea is the perfect compliment to a meal. I love the rich smell of tea leaves and the way their essence is gingerly released by hot water. A cup of tea goes nicely with buttered toast, or with nothing but a fire on a winter morning; or as I curl up in my favorite chair to watch it rain; or when I consider dragonflies on a summer day. There are particular sounds associated with tea drinking that can transport me to other times and places – the clink of a china cup as it is being nestled into its saucer; the tinkling of a teaspoon stirring milk and sugar into a hot fresh brew; the crack of ice when tea is poured into the glass. I close my eyes and see my grandmother sitting across from me at the kitchen table or tobacco field hands bowing their head before partaking of the well earned noon meal. Tea quenches the thirst of body and soul.
- The moon – when it waxes to luscious glowing silver fullness; when it wanes to mysterious velvet black enchantment. The moon is an extrovert and introvert, known and unknown, seen and unseen, as well as everywhere in between, disc and crescent. Her influence is essentially subtle yet intense. She lives in harmony with change as the tides of the sea ebb and flow under her liquid silver and dense ebony. She is a shape shifter. She is an incurable romantic. The first poem I remember learning was one my mother taught me: “I see the moon and the moon sees me. God bless the moon and God bless me.” I have stared at the moon for more nights than I can count and feel a connection to her that cannot be explained.
- Writing – putting pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard – essay questions, sticky notes, love letters, stories, these words……I have always found a kind of magic in writing. It allows me to explore thoughts, feelings, memories and my imagination. It transports me to a plane of existence that is unlike any other – it brings a calm, subtle joy. I have been grateful for these past few days to consider the countless blessings in my life and write about them. There is power in both the written and spoken word. It is as though something intangible becomes tangible. I have enjoyed writing for as long as I can remember. My first written story was about an ant village that I knew intimately because I would lie in the grass watching them as my grandmother hung clothes on the line to dry. I would often weave stories to entertain my little brother. Once I wrote a story for my classmates in grade school about the adventures of a girl named Charlie. I would churn out a chapter every couple of days. I was surprised that they liked her adventures as much as I did. I have written some pretty awful poetry but it helped to heal my broken heart and THAT is some powerful magic…….
I am also grateful to my friend for challenging me to do this exercise. It stretched me. It gave me stillness. I was opened to the unending number of things there are to be grateful for when I simply grow still and listen…….