I was walking in a local park this morning, one of those really beautiful ones surrounded by gorgeous older houses with landscaped lawns and gardens. I was imagining life inside one of those homes, the building itself a far cry from my modest little ranch with what amounts to a bindweed farm in the backyard. Already I was on shaky ground.
As I walked the path around the park, focused on those “other people’s” houses, I found myself feeling a bit disadvantaged. I was imagining myself sitting on one of the terraces of one house; I say “one of” because they had three, just in case they needed a few spares. Before I knew it I had wandered not only to the edge of the path, but nearly onto the street. There’s a wee lesson here, no doubt.
It took the rest of the way around the park for me to put it together, what I needed to get out of this experience, but here’s essentially what I came up with. When I am confronted with certain outward signs of success or achievement, it is easy for me to see the lack of that particular sign as a failure of some sort on my part. Big house by park = successful life, little ranch (albeit very cute!) = not so much.
What am I comparing anyway? The size of the building I live in? What possible real meaning could that have in my life beyond, maybe, the amount of rooms I would have to clean? I thought about the people living in those houses and what their lives might be like. They might be looking out at me from a hospital bed as the hospice nurse gives them a sponge bath. They might be looking out at me through an eye bruised and bloodied by their spouse’s fist the night before.
I became acutely aware of my own well being, of my success in being alive, upright, and able to think through these feelings. I became aware of the strength of the legs under me, mine but somehow also not mine, on loan if you will, and subject at any moment to the loss of their strength and use by illness or by accident. But right now, there they are, one moving in front of the other without my even thinking about them until just then.
I thought about my beating heart, still reliably chunking away day by day, far after my own father’s had stopped in his 44th year. Mine defiantly disowning family legacies and creating one of its own, thumping along happily, fueling the legs beneath me. They have been working quietly in unison to carry my middle aged body around the park and here I was, focusing on something I didn’t have, bricks and mortar, while the amazing stuff of life was propelling me forward without my even thinking about how.
I thought of my marriage, one of harmony, generally speaking, and laughter and love. Our lives are rich beyond measure because we have intimacy and depth and love and the ability to be silly and goofy and vulnerable and know we are loved absolutely by the other. I thought of my children, both adults, healthy and pursuing what they love in life, struggling through the angst of their age, but struggling well and caring about others.
I figured this out this morning — that gratitude isn’t so much something that happens to you when you get lucky, but it is a choice that you make every day, every minute really. I could have continued to look into other people’s houses this morning, felt sorry for myself, and driven back to my little house worse for the experience.
Instead, I chose to wonder at the miracle of my body, my life, and my loves. So here I am, back in my favorite chair out back, writing this and reminding myself of what I am so grateful for. I’m grateful that I have the choice to be grateful.
Chris Lewis, Ed.S., LPC is a therapist who specializes in Marriage and Family Therapy in Denver, CO. She provides individual, couples, and family therapy through Maria Droste Counseling Center.