There is a bit of a fog I enter while I decide I will heal my body. I focus only on what is necessary. I seem to bow out of life for a bit. My email responses are poor, I send text messages less, and I tend to let go of the things I love to do most. It is kind of an attack mode, or as my doctor calls is, a full-court press. He loves sports analogies. I don’t always understand them, but appreciate the enthusiasm.
The thing I learn, while in the midst of the full-court press, is gratitude and joy are practices. I can easily fall into a funk of why me or why is this happening, yet again. Believe me, even now, when I understand the questions should really be why not me and why do I deserve any kind of a break from illness, the falter can happen in the blink of an eye. And just when I am about to miss the step and fall into the darkness, I remember, quickly and almost magically, it is time to practice. Time to practice gratitude and joy.
The first time I heard these things, gratitude and joy, were practices, I thought it was absurd. I always assumed gratitude came with many blessings. Assumed joy was found in others, fantastic vacations, or evenings out, or concerts, or holidays. But, neither of them truly stem from such things. Not even a little bit. Sure, I can practice them while at a concert or on a vacation or out with a group of friends, but the emotions, the graciousness and the joyful heart, they come from hard and fast practice and ritual. If I practice them enough and hold onto them enough, then I can easily access both gratitude and joy, when it is easy and, most importantly, when it is most difficult.
Through television, radio, facebook, twitter, and the world swirling around us, we are taught to believe someone, somewhere is having a fantastic night, loving every moment, and absolutely living life to the fullest. She in a beautiful hall lined with vintage, knotty wood floors, flooded with twinkly lights, with the most radiant people, and they are laughing out loud and dancing all night long to the pitch perfect music. I don't mean to sound like a pessimist, but, seriously, these magical nights just do not happen. I can twist an evening, a day, or a vacation to sound like the best ever and leave out all of the icky, not so fun to tell parts, but really, the entire story is made up of fantastic and not so fantastic moments. Every story is, even Cinderella.
The trick is, where the practice comes in handy, is to be able to recognize the sparkly moments, jump on the carriage made out of a pumpkin, and ride off into the night. And if one of my shoes falls off, well it falls off and is left behind, only to become part of the story later on and make it whole. Cinderella wouldn’t be much of a story with out the ugly step sisters and the glass slipper and the coach made out of a pumpkin. It would just be a story of a pretty girl who meets a prince and marries him and, well, that is just plain boring. I digress, but you get the picture. While I can’t wallow in the bad and the misfortune, I also must learn find the carriages made out of pumpkins and the fairy godmothers along the way.
So, this time, as I ventured into the world of I must heal this latest infection, I decided to really, really exercise my gratitude muscles. For the past several years, at the end of each day, I recall at least three things for which I am most grateful. Even if I repeat the same three things for an entire week and they are things like, I am grateful for my dog, for this warm bed, and for food to eat, I express them. This time around, I increased the list to five expressions of gratitude and three expressions of joy. But the change was, I had to find them during the day, not just before I fell asleep. I still said the three out loud, before I finally closed my eyes, but I challenged myself to pause and notice the moments where I felt joyful or full of gratitude. The moments where I said, hey this isn’t so bad and I’m actually glad to be alive. It can also be a bit painful to marinate in these joyful moments. The assumption is always, uh oh, something is going right, something bad must follow. But, the truth is, the bad will happen. There isn’t a magic answer that ends all suffering. A trick does not exist that eliminates the sting of pain. What the practice teaches, however, is that among the pain and the suffering, there are moments that shine brightly, moments that turn the corners of the mouth upward, and, sometimes, even force a bit of laughter.
True joy, true gratitude come from within. This I know for sure. This truth is simple, this truth is real. Because even in my most feared situation, another infection, I find them both. Yes, I must undergo this dreaded treatment a bit longer, but that is because it is working, it is effective. There was a long, long time where nothing worked, where everything failed. So this time, I am grateful for what works. I find joy in the chance to be alive longer, to experience another season, and the joy found in the hope of many more seasons to come. And yes, sometimes the shoe falls off, sometimes I leave my glass slipper behind, but instead of a prince returning it to me, I turn around, pick it up, and put it right back on, hoist myself back into the carriage, and ride off guided by the light of the moon.