Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Elusive Art of Gratitude

I love that Caroline can sing the praises of Kanye West's new album, highlight an NPR interview with Jay-Z, and post an incredibly thought-provoking Chicago Tribune essay all within a 48 hour time span on her Facebook of the many reasons I think she's so cool.
I want to think that I am capable of the emotions and mindset that Schmich so interestingly describes, but I know that there will be days when I roll my eyes and find her disconnected and pretentious. And, that's okay.

"Even the terrible things seem beautiful to me now:
A mother's insights on gratitude become clearer near Thanksgiving"
Mary Schmich

November 21, 2010

"My mother once said something that has played over and over in my mind in the few months since she died, and I hear it strongly as we get closer to Thanksgiving.

"Even the terrible things," she said, on a sunny day in what would be her last September, "seem beautiful to me now."

I rarely saw my mother cry, despite the many reasons she might have, but on that afternoon in her backyard, she cried a little, tears that I sensed were equally for the beauty and the sorrow in her life, and for the recognition that, when it's all done, beauty and sorrow are one and the same.

Even the terrible things seem beautiful to me now.

What she was saying that day, I think, was that it's all life. The things that hurt your heart, wound your pride, drain your hope, leave you lost, confuse you to the point of madness. That's life, life with its endless, shifting sensations and its appalling urgency and its relentless drive toward mystery.

What could be better than that? What could you be more thankful for than that?

At Thanksgiving there's a lot of talk about gratitude, a word that has been so merchandized — on calendars and coffee mugs and in self-help manuals — that when you hear it you may want to reach for the hand sanitizer to wipe away the goo.

In the commercial version of gratitude, life is filled with cozy meals, cozy weather, friends and relations who smother each other in hugs and greeting cards. To the extent that hard times figure in, it's only once they've been vanquished and can be toasted farewell with a glass of premium wine facing a perfect sunset.

It's easy to be grateful for such easy pleasures. Who can complain about cozy meals and friends who put up with your annoying behaviors?

But to see the beauty in the terrible things and to be grateful for those moments — that's an elusive art.

I think you have to be old to see how beautiful the terrible things are, my mother said that afternoon, and I suspect she's right.

Maybe we can't see the beauty in the terrible things until we're approaching the final beauty and terror. In other words, death: the ultimate proportion gauge.

Maybe only when you take your last step back from the canvas can you see how gorgeous all those wrong strokes and smudges look when viewed together.

All of the best times in my life have grown directly out of the worst times. What feels like manure often turns out to be fertilizer.

But what I took from my mother's remark wasn't just that good may grow out of bad. It's that the bad is its own beauty.

We all resist what's difficult and painful. We run from it. We curse it. It comes anyway, as inevitable as weather.

Most of us have gone through at least one time in our lives that we would call terrible. Everyone I know well certainly has.

A disease. A rape. A parent's suicide. The death of someone you love. The collapse of a dream.

These are things you would never wish on anyone, just as I would never have wished for my mother some of what befell her.

But as we approach Thanksgiving, I'm more grateful than ever to her for the ways she helped everyone around her understand that the hard times make you whole. They make you play the entire keyboard. They allow you to experience the full range of the most basic thing we give thanks for: being alive."
I have long thought (and have even elected to tell multiple people) that Jay-Z, Beyonce, and I would be good friends.

And, remember, nothing says "Thanksgiving" like an ABC Beyonce special.

And, yes, my desire to perform "Single Ladies" lingers.


  1. The Uses of Sorrow

    Someone I loved once gave me
    A box full of darkness.

    It took me years to understand
    That this, too, was a gift.

    By Mary Oliver
    from Thirst

  2. Thank you for posting this, Melissa. I've never read any of Oliver's poems...I plan to do some research now.
    I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving:)

  3. I've been thinking about the "it's only when you come to the end that you can understand this" part - we will have to discuss sometime : )