It’s easy to pay lip-service to a word like gratitude, isn’t it? To find a hundred reasons every day to be grateful isn’t a difficult or time-consuming task. It merely requires us to look around at where we live and notice the comforts, the roof over our heads, the people in our lives that love and support us, the food on our plate, the plants thriving over there in the corner of the room, somehow, in their steadfast ability to be present.
And those are the obvious things, but we can always dig a little deeper yet somehow, still close to the surface, and feel gratitude for the ways things are, right now, in the quiet or amid the noise. The deftness of your hands as you do simple things like wash dishes or fold laundry. The scent of leaf rot as autumn begins its beautiful entrance into your backyard and coat closet. The shorter days and a renewed appreciation for the generous light that retrains our eyes every day to witness what an incredibly beautiful planet we live on. How lucky we are. How grateful we are to recognize the gift of gratitude itself.
Three years ago at this time, a beautiful, courageous, spirited man walked into my life and turned it upside down. But in a good way. Sort of like how it feels to throw your head back when you’re on a swing and see the world inverted, moving rapidly past you, to feel your stomach lurch, and a sensation wash through your body that can only be described as magnificent. Childlike. Play. How grateful I was to touch and feel life in a way I never had before. Curious. Teeming with joy like rainbows and butterflies and hearts were bursting from my body. I’d found my home, not in this man, but in what we made just by being together.
We rode bikes that fall, coasting through long wooded paths decked with red, orange, and yellow leaves, cheeks kissed by cool autumn air with the endless blue sky above and a freedom that’s felt when the place from which you’ve arrived and the place to which you are going meet at a standstill, and for a moment the heart stops and you take in the world around you like you’re taking your first breath. We smoked joints on those paths too, on long walks down to the riverside where we sat and played word games and talked about all the things that don’t matter and all the things that do. We got to know each other. But not in the typical doldrum way of living together. We got to know each other the way kids do.
In those days, three years ago, I fell in love. With a voice, an imperfect hand, a certain way of walking, a way being in life so beautifully unfamiliar to me. How grateful I was to be in the company of a man so alive, whose presence is so pleasantly loud that it fills up every hollow space within. A man so fascinating to me that it was as though I’d just discovered that by turning my head up to the sky at night I could see these incredible twinkling lights called stars, a wonder of the universe, a million granted wishes, awaiting my asking. How grateful I was to be walking into this gift of love at 38 years old.
Three years zoomed by and here we are in 2020, a year that gives the word tumult a spin on its head in anticipation of a new way to describe what the hell is going on with us and the world we’ve created. Canadian Thanksgiving, again, but in 2020 style. A whole new bag of trickery and madness and the full spectrum of family and what it means to love, like really love. I can’t say I have it figured out because the truth is that it’s not meant to be figured out. Why should we act as though we, such little human beings, have that kind of authority? I know that love, like life itself, isn’t simple, but it also isn’t hard. It’s not an arrival or a beginning. I guess I can say more about what love is not than what it is, other than this: if I were to scoop up a handful of sand and expect every grain of the stuff to remain in my clenched fist just because I want it to, then I am in for some rather piercing disappointment.
And, in stark contrast to my flavour of gratitude back in 2017, I am granted an opportunity to learn a different kind of appreciation. Not for what I have, but for what I have not. Perhaps this sounds contrary to the practice of gratitude, but actually, it confronts me with an opportunity to appreciate loss in all its forms. Because loss gives us a very necessary and often overwhelming confrontation with life. Without loss, what would we miss? Without loss we wouldn’t even touch the full complexity of experience of what it means to have had.
They say you don’t know what you had until it’s gone, but in truth, it’s only our departure from the place we’re in that grants the acknowledgement we were somewhere at all. The story only becomes a full story at its end. Until then, we can’t really see it. Then the answers come flooding in. The difficult questions. A more real conversation. A deeper appreciation for the enduring heartbeat, the breath, the constants in life that remind us why we’re here and how simple it all is. For the fortitude of the human spirit to get up, dust oneself off, break a promise to keep another promise alive, and move on, inevitably present with ourselves and our contract with life.
Every ending signals a new beginning––and overused cliché that I mostly agree with, but in between them exists a space, a necessary roadside stop that grants a more spacious and humble perspective of where we’ve come from and where we are going. This stop is where a different kind of gratitude hangs out, awaiting our noticing eyes, our silence, our stillness, our open hearts and quiet minds, for all things just as they are, right now.