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When it's hard to be thankful

Gratitude is good for us. Everyone from our grandparents to preachers, teachers, and personal coaches has drummed this into us. Yet, sometimes it’s truly hard to feel thankful. Rather than beat yourself, or someone else, over the head with a rousing chorus of “you and your first world problems” how about we offer a little space and grace instead.


If you’ve been reading along on this blog, thank you by the way, you know that last month I posted about a busy and kind of tough October. A couple of days later, I was slapped into bed with what I think was the flu. I was pretty much useless as anything other than a blanket-holder-upper for over a week. I still have a lingering cough that had my landlady showing up at my door last night with a traditional Chinese remedy. She’s probably tired of the noise.


Am I glad to be up and out of the bed? Yes. Grateful the doctor declared me non-contagious? You bet. Feeling super thankful? Uh…not so much right now.


Being sick has totally derailed my work schedule. Research stalled. New online email course delayed. Writing and meetings scheduled around naps are not the way I envisioned my autumn playing out. It’s discouraging and being discouraged can be exhausting. Having to walk my talk on time management and recovery strategies is humbling as well.


I’ve got no doubt I will return to normal, but in the meantime I am pondering how we react to people complaining – telling us that life is tough right now for them. Perhaps we need to take a breath before launching our “you’re lucky to be alive” lectures, and for a moment try to see things from the other side. One way to do this is to watch author John Green’s video on pain, where he explains, “No one can ever know quite what it’s like to have your pain, any more than you can know what it’s like to have someone else’s.”


So, I will never be able to really make anyone understand how frustrating it’s been to be sick in some fashion for weeks, after a really unpleasant moving house experience. No one outside of my body will understand the days I spent afraid to take a deep breath, because coughing had pulled all the muscles in my rib cage. And falling behind on my personal to-do list and goals for fall has given me a sadness that’s hard to explain. Yet, those close to me did make my life better this past month. They entertained my weird email correspondence when I had no voice for phone calls, brought me fresh lemons and ginger for my therapeutic drinks, and returned my library books.


Perhaps it was all worth it? I hope I’ve learned a bit of patience (not my strongest quality), and will be able to refrain from jumping in with fast advice when someone shares their problems with me. I know I’ve learned to be a bit more vigilant about my health. It’s been years since I was this sick for this long, and I know I’d begun to take my generally healthy status for granted. Finally, I realize that gratitude and being thankful must come from inside. No amount of pushing, encouraging, or putting someone on the spot at the Thanksgiving table can create this feeling. Sometimes it’s just not there, and we need to be gentle with one another when someone is passing through a tough, discouraging, time. When the dust clears, that chicken soup, bag of lemons, or quiet understanding could become the items on our loved one’s new gratitude list.



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(c) 2019 Karen Southall Watts