Aug. 7, 2012 — The other night my sister, Kristine, called me. As we caught up on our lives, I started complaining. “I feel like everything I was, every aspect of my identity, has been progressively stripped away in just a few years.
Our parents have died. My sons are adults. I’m divorced when I really thought I’d be married for life. I’m not even working in the field I spent so many years in.”
On the other end of the line she was silent. Then she said, “Why don’t you try getting up in the morning and just be grateful you’re alive and have your health?”
That stopped me. Kristine has lost a lot too, including her breasts to a double mastectomy. Every day she lives with the knowledge her cancer might return, and this time they might not be able to do anything about it. Yet she’s one of the most positive people I’ve ever known.
Many people use Jan. 1 to reassess their lives and set goals for the coming year. August, my birthday month, has always served the purpose for me. There’s something about the hot, dry summer that seems to signal change, and so as I reflect and set goals for the coming year, I’ve determined to incorporate a deeper sense of gratitude into my life.
This past year has been rocky to say the least, and I haven’t always taken it gracefully. I want life to go the way I think it should and people to act according to my wishes. Of course, logically, I’ve known this isn’t the case ever since my mother told me we don’t live on the fair planet, but some childish part of myself still thinks life and people should be just and fair, and when things don’t go my way I rail against the injustices.
One of the ways I’ve dealt with problems has been to move. I’ve taken off for other countries, other cities, justifying myself by claiming to love adventure, change and the chance to sample new cultures. I have been enriched by these experiences, but I’ve denied some part of myself as well. By constantly changing my environment, I don’t have to look deeply at those more ignominious parts of myself.
I chose change as a way to continually reinvent myself, but the identities became a shield against the world. I kept molding myself to try and fit in and, eventually, lost sight of myself altogether.
One Eastern philosophy says by knowing ourselves deeply, we can find our true selves, one stripped of ego and identity, and so my first step toward gratitude is to be grateful for how difficult this year has been and for the loss of so much that I used to consider my identity.
What better opportunity to grow?
It’s a time to appreciate what I do have, two grown sons with whom I have a close relationship, a beautiful home, two dogs who love me unconditionally and two cats who grace me with their presence. My friends might not love me unconditionally, but are there for me nevertheless.
I have a job and enjoy good health. And I’m staying put this time, not running off to China or Mexico or San Francisco. I’m willing to see the hard times through and give myself time to learn the lessons I need in order to emerge stronger and clearer than I’ve ever been.
What more could I ask for?
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