In the month of November in A.A., we can go to any number of meetings that will focus on gratitude. In early sobriety, I used to literally get nauseous when I would walk into a meeting and hear that was what the topic was going to be. I mean seriously?!?!?! What do I have to be grateful for?
That would be the first question I would ask. Because my sober date is in November (11/17/87), I would be in discussion meetings, speakers meetings, etc. in the month of November and it felt like all anyone was willing to talk about was how grateful they were for this or that. I learned in short order how fast resentments can crop up even around the best of topics! I had to just adapt to listening to people talk about gratitude in my birthday month all the time. #selfishandselfcentered
Today, 35 years (and 5 days) in, I can tell you that a transformation has occurred around this and while my life isn’t exactly as I might have envisioned it to be, I can tell you that it certainly isn’t what it was likely to have become had I not made it into the rooms. One of the many, many things I find myself grateful for today is my willingness to be teachable. This idea of being willing to learn new things hit me smack dab in the face this week when I was having a conversation with a group of people on the topic of gratitude. At first, it was your typical conversation about one person being grateful for their health, one person being grateful for their career, one person being grateful for their family, etc. And then, one woman asked the room a question that I had never been asked before…
“What if we stopped looking at the things we are grateful FOR…. and started looking at how we are grateful IN the midst of….?”
WHAT?!?!?! She went onto give examples…. like, look at how you are grateful in that situation where you lost your job? Look at how grateful you are when you had that car accident? Look at how grateful you are when you recently lost a loved one? WHAT?!?!?!
That just didn’t make sense to me at first. How am I supposed to be grateful for something that seemingly is bad in my life? How can I be grateful for loss? How am I supposed to be grateful for someone who has done something really bad to me? It just doesn’t make sense. That was until she suggested that we be willing to look a little deeper than to just what’s on the surface.
When I did that, I started thinking about a situation I experienced in my life about 19 years ago when my mother was diagnosed with cancer. She and I had had a really tough go of it in life together and we struggled to find any kind of love in our relationship. We fought incessantly, we were always at odds and we simply couldn’t see eye to eye. The moment she was diagnosed with cancer was the moment our relationship began to change. I don’t know if it was that thinking about our own morality thing or what, but something began to shift in both of us. Fast forward to 19 years later and I can tell you that this is a woman who I love and adore. I thank God each and every day for her and her life and am beyond grateful that we have the relationship we have today. I’m not all that sure had she not had cancer, we might not have the relationship we have today.
Looking at gratitude from this point of view helped me to see it more as a verb, an action; than a noun, a state of mind. In reimagining the word, it was easy for me to look at how I am being grateful in the midst of seemingly negative situations.
It reminded me of an episode of a TV show back in the late 80’s where one of the characters who happened to be Jewish was sharing a story his father had shared with him while his father was in one of the concentration camps. His father shared a story of one day he was walking through one of the buildings and ran across another Jew who was on his knees praying just before he was about to be taken out to be killed. The characters father looked at the man on the floor praying and said, “What on Earth are you doing?” The man on the floor said, “I’m praying and thanking God.” The father replied with, “What could you possible be thankful for in this moment?” The man said, “I am thanking God that He didn’t make me like them.”
That story stayed with me because it was a perfect example of even in the midst of pain and suffering (and in this case death), being IN gratitude was an action, and on some level it gave that man peace. I hope that when trouble comes my way, when I am engulfed in pain and suffering, that I am given the ability to remember gratitude even IN the pain and suffering because if I can look deep enough, there will always be a way in which I can express gratitude IN that moment – regardless of how bleak it may seem.
May you find gratitude IN this moment and in the moments to come for the remainder of this 24. I wish that for you – I pray that for you.
In love and service,