It was a moment scripted for a movie.
This morning, I read a beautiful blog post about gratitude written by Amy Montanez, which my pastor, Amy Figg, shared on Facebook and tagged me to see. She and I have had many a conversation about gratitude, especially the notion of gratitude during difficult times.
I had just shared Amy M’s post to my Facebook wall and added my two-sentence takeaway when my desk phone rang. It was a colleague asking if I’d read the obituary section in Sunday’s paper. She said Diane Jablonski, whom I’ve known since my newspapering days in the early 90s, passed away unexpectedly over the weekend.
“What?” I asked, incredulous, my heart suddenly broken by the news. How is that possible? I just saw her in the hallway here a few weeks ago.
And yet, the news was true.
Diane was a force to be reckoned with. She loved serving her community, particularly the school system. I met her when she was actively involved in the Knox County Council PTA. She recruited me to be the organization’s newsletter editor. This was back in the day before desktop publishing software was literally in our hands. I produced the thing in Microsoft Word. By today’s standards, it was a gnarly looking newsletter.
When the lovely Sarah and I were planning our wedding, the women of the council held a wedding shower for me. It was lovely. Knowing we were planning a beach honeymoon, Diane gifted me with a pair of swim trunks. Because she had two strapping young sons of her own, she knew how difficult it was to find clothes that fit and also looked good.
Diane’s passing is a huge loss for our community. A key player is now missing. No one can take her place in the public service sphere, and certainly she is irreplaceable among her loved ones, who must now face the coming holidays without their wife, mother, grandmother, aunt, friend.
I am grateful I knew Diane, and I will miss her.
How can we be grateful when times are difficult? We are certainly living in difficult times, aren’t we? Terror attacks across the globe. A refugee crisis in this country and in Western Europe. Presidential candidates who offer nothing but loud noise and fear in the hopes the populace will elect them anyway. All of that, plus the life crises that beat and batter us unabated, like the death of a loved one, the diagnosis of disease, communication breakdowns with family members, etc., etc.
What’s to be grateful for?
My friend Leslie, who I see in the hallway at work at least once a week, puts it like this: “I woke up today and I’m here.”
That reasoning may be too simple for some, but it’s not incorrect. If the very fact that we’re alive doesn’t bring us to gratitude, there is scientific evidence that “fake it til you make it” really works when it comes to gratitude. If you ACT grateful, you will eventually BECOME grateful.
And not for the big things, necessarily.
This week, it will be easy to express our gratitude for the roof over our head, the food on the table and the family surrounding us (even when they’re sometimes part of life’s difficulties).
Whether times are difficult or brilliantly bright it’s challenging to express gratitude for the mundane — those things we might not notice if we aren’t paying attention — like the softness of the fabric on the newly purchased couch, the sound a can of Easy Cheese makes when you apply a dollop to a cracker, the sound of glasses clinking over a toast with friends. Small but important moments, all of which have made me incredibly grateful over the last few days.
And gratitude has to be expressed, doesn’t it? In words, for sure. I am grateful for the wonderful friends who are like family in my life and I tell them often that I’m grateful for them. But gratitude also should be expressed in our actions.
The lovely Sarah is the perfect example of this. She recently had a major health crisis wherein a grapefruit-sized cyst had formed on her right ovary causing it to twist three times putting Sarah in the most excruciating pain. She could barely breathe, speak or walk the morning I took her to the hospital three weeks ago.
Sarah hates doctors, hospitals, medical tests, the whole thing. Hates with a capital H. But, she was the most gracious and grateful patient I suspect most of the medical team in the emergency room had ever met. Both because she knew she was in a place where she was going to get help and because she is a naturally sweet person, gratitude flowed from her heart and her mouth for all of the 10 hours we were in the ER.
From the transport guys to the nurse who did her best to control Sarah’s pain to the doctor who managed her case, everyone remarked what a blessing it was to have Sarah as a patient. This in the emergency room of a hospital, where the world can definitely be dark, painful and sometimes bloody. Sarah was a ray of light if not the very sunshine itself.
Which brings me back to the two-sentence takeaway I wrote about Amy Montanez’s gratitude blog post. These are the words I posted:
“What good is gratitude in this dark, troubled and often difficult world? Sometimes, it’s the only light we see.”
May we be the light today and always. Amen.