I believe in gratitude. It is the poetry of my life.
I haven’t always known about the power of having a grateful heart. As a young graduate nurse I cared for my father who struggled and died from cancer at age fifty-seven. Later I provided care for my best friend who, at age forty, died from breast cancer. Grief hollowed me out – an empty reed; I felt anxious and depressed.
I found a measure of comfort in attending to the soil; cultivating flower beds so the tiniest spears of trillium, lily of the valley, and grape hyacinth could flourish among the rhododendrons and azaleas in my garden, but sorrow was like a stubborn weed, claiming more than its share, and refusing to pull free.
Desperate to be well, I prayed, read self-help books, walked miles and miles, and began a gratitude journal. Each night I listed five things for which I was grateful. There were the obvious entries: love of a good man, fine children, friends, a job which allowed me to help others, but as time went on I found myself looking for, and finding, small things to record in my journal.
Washing my hands I praised hot water and fragrant soap. I stood quietly and watched three iridescent hummingbirds bathing on a rock in the middle of a small stream. Lingering in sunlight, I let it warm my body. I heard poetic rhythms in the call of an owl, savored a slice of lemon cake from the deli, and relaxed in a comfortable bed at night. I realized these small celebrations were huge.
Then my sweet, loving mother became ill. While she was still able to be in her home I baked bread nearly every day so she could smell that special fragrance of home as she had provided for me all those years ago. We watched funny movies, and I gave her manicures; small things for which I was grateful.
As I sat by her bedside, the day she lay dying, my grief was overlaid with a quiet grace. I gave thanks for her life, the years we had together, and through the open window that spring day, breathing in the scent of fresh clipped grass, I heard children playing, listened to their laughter.
The poet, Mary Oliver said, “This is the first, wildest, and wisest thing I know: that the soul exists, and that it is built entirely out of attentiveness.”
When I die I hope my epitaph will read, she had a grateful heart, and I hope my children and grandchildren will cherish my gratitude journals and continue their own.