In the Scheme of Things: Three Kinds of Gratitude

While basement cleaning isn’t on my fun-to-do-during-time-off list, growing necessity prevailed during a recent staycation. Space was needed to expand the photo studio for my Etsy vintage shops, but too many boxes of stuff moved too many times, were in the way.

It was during that stuff elimination project I discovered old gratitude journals in a worn box. Every day for years I’d logged five or more things I was grateful for that day.  Skimming the pages in dozens of abundance journals, my gratitude statements kindled warm memories of occurrences, kindnesses, and people.

But they sparked something else, too. The last time I saw the journals, I chose not to part with them. Perhaps I thought someday family or friends would read how grateful I was about each of them. But now, I was struck with how silly it seemed to hope they’d find my words. This time, the journals ended up in the recycle bin.

I believed then that gratitude was an inner feeling, a heartfelt expression of appreciation, love, and thankfulness. And it is. It enables us to see the blessings we have, and the positive elements in our life. It’s the kind of gratitude we hold inside with love and thanksgiving and it makes us feel good on several levels.

There’s a second kind of gratitude, the external kind, that’s nice to get and give, too. I first felt its power 35 years ago when a colleague showed up unexpectently in my office to thank me for being an influence in her life. Her heartfelt message brought tears to my eyes then, and even now, nourishes my soul when I think about it. “I was raised to give a person their flowers while they’re still living,” she told me. I love that philosophy.

Today, there’s a third and reflective kind of gratitude that’s emerged for me. It’s the gratitude of spared sorrow, missed mishaps, and untraveled paths. We all have those almost, not quite, sobering moments. That time we didn’t see the kid on the bike until the last second, didn’t get hit by the speeding car, or didn’t have our house destroyed in a natural disaster. It’s those could-have-beens, but didn’t happen moments.

This Thanksgiving I’m offering a special thanks for the life-altering things that didn’t happen to me, but could have: Not falling asleep driving Interstate 5 after a college all-nighter; not getting pregnant as a young woman from a #MeToo assault; not being in the middle when gang violence broke out on the subway platform where I’d been waiting seconds before; and so many more.

In the scheme of things, this gratitude is decades long and includes stupid, random, and frightening things that might have been. I am profoundly grateful for what didn’t happen and with a humble spirit of thanks-giving, I say, “But for the grace of God, go I.”

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