Generosity and Gratitude

Every time I consider writing a blog post or an essay, I feel a little sick. As if I’ve eaten something slightly tainted or took a too-big swallow of soured milk. It’s a hint, just a hint of what could happen if I fail. 

Intellectually, I know that if, as Brené Brown so wonderfully asserts, I am in the arena, I will most definitely fail or get my ass kicked once in a while. I even believe that experiencing failure (hopefully on a somewhat limited basis) is healthy, promotes humility, and teaches us how to do better. Still—it feels like shit especially if you are a teensy bit paralyzed by your longing for perfection.

***

Lately I’ve been reading Patti Digh’s wonderful Life is a Verb in the mornings before I go to work. About a week ago, I drew a square around this quote:

“Generosity, it turns out, is a way of being in the world, not a way of giving in the world. It has little to do with giving gifts, and everything to do with giving space to others to be who they are.”

I think Patti Digh is right. And I think I’m capable of being generous in the world. But am I capable of giving myself this sort of space? 

That’s what I find out when I write. When I read what I’ve written and cross out the dishonest parts, when I go back in with an open mind and a tender heart I’m offering myself the sort of generosity I wouldn’t think twice of offering to others.

I’ve got to admit, the committee has been a real pain in the ass lately. Every time I sit down to write, they ask, “Why are you writing that?” or “Who cares?” But as a good friend reminded me just today, I can fire the committee and have security escort them from the building. Interesting idea.

***

Do you get Kelly Corrigan’s newsletter? If you don’t, I highly recommend it. This week, she wrote about gratitude and a pretty cool gratitude practice she has begun. It got me to thinking about my own gratitude practice (I don’t have one). 

Oh sure, I give it a try now and then, usually around Thanksgiving. I make the decision to deliberately incorporate more gratitude into my daily life. I’ve gone the gratitude jar route with an elaborately decorated jar and brightly colored paper strips upon which I write what I’m grateful for. I’ve kept a gratitude journal with colored pencils and pens, and one year I even forced my children to keep their own gratitude journals. You can imagine how that turned out. The entries were less than inspiring. 

Here’s what I think happens when I get started. I get hung up on the big stuff. I write about my long marriage and my six kinda-brilliant, kinda-smart alecky kids and my three tiny-to mid-size grandchildren. I list my toasty warm house which in these post-menopausal days is a tad bit too toasty, plenty of sweatshirts, and a few too many pairs of sneakers. I acknowledge clean water and an abundance of food (popcorn, asparagus, and garlic roasted chicken, not to mention cheesy mashed potatoes), trash pickup and health insurance. Then I sort of fizzle out. 

It’s not that the big stuff isn’t important or that I don’t need to remember those things all the time because I do. I think it’s more that I am reminded of the masses of folks who cannot be grateful for the things I take for granted because they don’t have them. And it shuts me up. Just like the committee who reminds me of how privileged and self-involved I am.

But today, I fired the committee (and security personnel is on the way) because I’m beginning a new gratitude practice.

Gratitude for small and ordinary miracles.

For example—Dark-eyed Juncos flying startled from Redwood in the front yard. The woman in the Buick, who leaned over her front seat and waved maniacally to make sure I saw her as she drove past. Getting my 10,000 Fitbit steps before 1:00 in the afternoon. Iced coffee and a ripe but firm Chiquita banana. Oprah’s Super Soul Conversation with Pema Chodron (yes, I listen to Oprah’s Super Soul Podcast regularly). Sharpie pens, sharp pencils, Blackwing pencil sharpeners, and lined paper that doesn’t bleed through. A friend’s post on FB about a beautiful tree that “let go” all her beechnuts at once. Sticky little hand and mouth prints on the front window and most other surfaces in my house. 

When I start, it’s hard to stop. I’m grateful for wind and headbands and red wine and Ibuprofen. I’m grateful for potato soup and fizzy water, books and reading glasses, slippers and pajama pants and old t-shirts. I’m grateful for memory and words, blankets and lil pillow (a Casper nap pillow that, at 52, I’ve become wildly attached to).  

I could go on and on, and that’s the point. There’s enough to be grateful for right here, right now. 

A blog, or for that matter a life, is no place to worry about perfection.

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