Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gratitude


Thomas Aquinas stained glass window.
St. Francis of Assisi knew gratitude was good for us long before this month's Harvard Mental Health Letter added its two cents, but isn't that the way it usually goes? Evidence follows intuition. Well, according to my friends at Harvard, gratitude helps make us resilient. In fact, it's one of many things that have that effect. For instance, working at something you love rather than working less, having a sense of life purpose, giving for no other reason than because you can, forming and maintaining meaningful relationships, and possessing the confidence to steer your own course, also render a person more resilient in the face of whatever life throws at us along the way.

Resilience doesn't mean resistant, it means durable. Resistance can carry the connotation of immunity to injury. Resilience and durability are fluid concepts that describe those who endure what Hamlet called, "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," and come through scathed and scarred, perhaps, but not embittered. Resistant, to me, is a wall; resilient is a membrane, tough and tender, alive, open to experience.

Thinking about gratitude and the resilience it engenders, on this Thanksgiving eve, I'm grateful for a young woman who became the first live human in whose body I've inserted a scalpel to make an incision. She was unconscious at the time, "thanks" to the wonders of anesthesia, but I was sufficiently aware for both of us and so grateful for the privilege she'd granted, I was close to tears when the final sutures were in place. It felt as though I was incising something from my own life (a topic for another post) as much as something from hers.

I feel grateful for my entering medical school class, a group of people, all of them younger than me by months to years, in whose company and because of whose support, I've somehow managed to come this far. They play hard, work harder, each having sojourned in at least one of Dante's Twelve Circles of Hell, and survived with hope and heart intact. It's a privilege to be numbered among them.

I'm grateful for the snow that began falling overnight, the plow that woke me at 4.06 AM and the hunger that followed in its wake, dragging me from the warmth of bed to face the chill of my upstairs room. I'm glad I raked the leaves crowding close to the kitchen door and straying carelessly onto the driveway last night, so that shoveling snow this morning was easier. It was dark in central Maine, dark and cold, and the drive to my hospital slickly hazardous. I'm grateful my CRV takes little note of the weather, embracing ice and snow as a challenge, instead of a threat.

I'm even grateful for the fuse that blew in the kitchen this morning. Power outages in the forecast, I made coffee last night and put it in the fridge -- cold coffee being better than none. Warming it in the microwave was too much too early, it seems, so I had to take flashlight in hand and brave the depths of the cellar I've considered the ghastly realm of goblins, spooks, and creatures unspeakable. It was nothing of the sort, but gazing into the black basement of our creakily ancient temporary housing, my imagination ran rampant. Yoo hoo, Stephen King, are you down there?

Some things only a fool or a madman would be grateful for, but it's the trivial we most often overlook. Those insignificant moments of inconvenience over a blown fuse teach us how to draw upon gratitude when we need it the most. Those moments that remind us that faith, hope, and love can be found anytime, anywhere, and not merely the one day of the year we remember to give thanks. Whoever said, it's the little things that count, wasn't kidding.

Happy Thanksgiving!


(Creative Commons image of St. Francis of Assisi via Wikipedia)

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