My goal for this time: to reconcile with gratitude.
I used to be good with it. When George died at age fifty-three, I was grateful for the years we had together. And I was grateful for the relative security he left me with. Having just seen him die of cancer, I was grateful for my own heath. I just wasn’t okay with other people telling me I should be, especially people who still had live spouses. It’s pretty dicey to tell another person how they should feel.
It Doesn’t Work to Tell Someone They Should be Grateful.
When my mom died when I was ten, my dad said something extremely useful: he said it was okay to feel however I really felt. (But I still had to get my math homework done). I’ve always been grateful for having an awesome dad (even if he did leave articles on date rape on my bed when I was in college). I didn’t like being a lawyer (I quit practicing many years ago), but I was grateful for the opportunity to be one.
But after being alone for years, my stores of gratitude eroded. For petty reasons, like no real writing prospects, Facebook posts showing couples at dinner parties hashtagged #husband best friend, and men who thought they knew what was wrong with me (It’s called self-esteem and it’s a virtue. See being raised by an awesome dad above).
There was the fifty-fourth birthday party I threw for myself when twenty people said they were coming but most of them cancelled the day before or the day of and I was down to four guests and a large order for artisanal pizzas I couldn’t cancel. Other indignities followed. I could be grateful despite losing my husband, but I couldn’t stay that way.
Gratitude seemed like a requirement to find pleasure in adversity. Like in Candide where Pangloss keeps saying, “everything happens for the best in the best of all possible worlds” while he disregards reality. And my sixth grade teacher who knew about my mom dying and suggested I emulate Pollyanna. Uh no, and please stick to grading vocabulary tests.
And yet, in These Times, I’m Finding Gratitude to be a Necessity.
I’m not enjoying hunkering down with myself. I’m too bitter and it’s been a battle not to slide into negativity. Which looks like pizza, pinot and Hulu during the daylight hours.
I have been grateful recently. For the chance to teach a writing class, and the smart, interesting students I had, and for getting to go to graduate school (I’m in my last semester of an MFA). Most of all, I’m grateful for finding my second love after years of searching and not giving up. We’ve created a store of great memories to fall back on. I didn’t want my most lasting memories to be of caring for my dying husband.
But then there’s the rest of it. Like the fact that I was trying to generate interest in my manuscript before the world shut down. And before that, it felt like every Facebook post I read was about someone else getting a book deal. Like they went to go buy feminine hygiene products, and there was a super agent standing in the same aisle waiting to chat! And my real fear: their work is just better than mine. I obsess the MFA will lead to exactly nothing.
Since turning 56, my metabolism has embraced its inner snail and every time I’m about to take a bite of anything yummy, I say to myself “a minute on the lips, etc.” Which doesn’t really work when you spend your days in sweat pants. And are soon be a person with an MFA who spends her days in sweat pants communing with Hulu.
I’m Still Searching for Solutions
My best idea so far is to try to be grateful whatever the results. I get to go to school. And be in love. And walk through daisies (see photo above). George died seven years ago last Friday. I guess that’s part of what I wanted to tell you today. And I’m far happier than I thought I’d be two years ago. And yet it’s hard to let go of bitterness. The men I wish I’d spoken my mind to, the ones from whom I’m still waiting for apologies. (Not ever).
I’m curious, can happiness or at least equilibrium, be a choice? We cannot control outcomes, only efforts. I just have to keep repeating it. And choosing to be grateful.