“Gratitude is a state of mind” is a common sentiment; albeit a state of mind that many of us continue to work on as life throws us curve balls.
And monsoons, hurricanes and tsunamis.
So sometimes, it actually takes work to remember all the things we have to be grateful for when we are clinging to a life raft to stay afloat.
But here’s the thing. Gratitude can transform even the most difficult situation into something more palatable.
It brings a grace to awkward circumstances that is hard to explain.
Let me tell you a story.
In the spring of 2017, we flew to Florida for a family vacation. It was a time filled with fun and, I’m not going to lie, bittersweet moments of missing our boy. In quiet moments of reflection the pain rises to the surface and cannot be denied.
Did we have fun?
Would it have been more fun with Noah?
Intent on savoring every moment, we spent many hours enjoying Disney World. My poor feet took a beating; it reminded me that although I may still feel twelve at heart, this body is definitely not! My sneakers were causing blisters on my feet so I was forced to switch to wearing sandals instead.
Scott suggested I purchase new sneakers but after scouring several outlets with no luck, I realized I wasn’t going to find anything to satisfy me. I slowly came to the realization that I was sentimentally attached to these sneakers. They had been purchased with Noah on our last trip to Florida and I had walked two Trailblazer 4 Cancer events wearing said sneakers in Noah’s honor!
Oh, the tales those shoes could tell.
Fast forward to the middle of our vacation. It was half over and as we drove to a nearby restaurant, I was feeling melancholy as I tend to do while riding in a vehicle and listening to music. Music seeps past all my barriers and brings so many emotions bubbling to the surface. But on this hot day of 38 degrees Celsius, as we sat in our air conditioned rental car waiting for the light to turn green, I noticed something which jarred me out of my misery.
There, on the crosswalk several cars ahead of us, was a homeless man. As he gingerly crossed the street, pain was etched on his face as he grimaced with each scalding step.
Watching him cross the boiling pavement, I exclaimed in disbelief to Scott, “The Emperor Has No Clothes!”
No, you’re right, of course that’s not what I said…wrong story, different lesson! And no, I would never make fun of a homeless person, but it struck my warped sense of humor as being similar to what I DID exclaim in that moment.
Because what I did say was:
“Look at that poor man, he has no shoes!!”
He held a sign that read, “I have no shoes, please donate if you can.” Seeing the tears in my eyes as I uttered that last comment, Scott silently handed me money. Gripping it in my sweaty palms, I rolled down the window and motioned the man to our car. As he hobbled over, my eyes welled up with tears of compassion.
Looking at his kind, sunburned face, I barely gulped out, “Please take this money and buy some shoes,” as I placed the money in his wizened, sunburned hand.
And then I was floored once more by what he said in return.
Smiling into my eyes with the deepest gratitude, this man who had very little in terms of worldly goods in contrast to our abundance, replied in the most thankful voice you can imagine, “God Bless you ma’am, God Bless you.” I will never forget the genuine look of joy on his face and the deep gratitude in his tired eyes as the light turned green and we drove away!
All I could think was, “I should have given him my flip flops…why didn’t I give him my shoes?”
It was a very humbling moment in time in which a beautiful soul with few earthly possessions showed me what true gratitude looks like. I still tear up when I think of him. He taught me a lesson I will always remember, “No matter how destitute our circumstances, gratitude will help us rise.”
And this is the double edged sword we live with in loss and life.
But I was also reminded that I am very fortunate compared to many. I have never worried about where the next meal would come from or having a roof over our heads. It was a lot of fun living as a tourist for two weeks – a privilege, in fact.
But it is unrealistic to believe that everything will work out perfectly for what would be the lesson in that? There were many other lessons on that trip as I opened up to receive. Many limiting beliefs and fears rose to the surface and as I released the fear – I felt lightened, less burdened.
So I think of the many things I am thankful for and am reminded of something I wrote for Noah’s memorial Facebook page, Noah’s Blue Ribbon Brigade, shortly after he died:
Decoding this poem: Warm blankets in the hospital were one of his only comforts during treatments. Many movies were paused as he was violently ill. Those laughing blue eyes were his. Some of the first messages Noah sent me from the divine were images in trees and clouds. He adored pink peppermints.
At the end of our vacation, as we packed our suitcases, I made a decision. Removing the blue ribbon from my old sneakers, I left them in the room. They still had some good miles in them but it was time for me to release them.
They no longer fit.
Maybe somewhere down south, my sneakers are gracing the feet of someone who was in need. I hope they are supported and guided each step they take in those shoes of mine.
I think I’ll dust off Noah’s old shoes and walk a few miles with him as my guide.💙
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