I may have said this already, but I am struck by it increasingly, incrementally, in a widening spiral of awareness. It has to do with gratitude.
I've always known I ought to be grateful. I remember reading a very resonant passage, years ago, about that "ought." I know it in my head. I have so very much -- health, wealth, family, friends. All I could want or need. I ought to be grateful.
But I haven't always been. Instead I've been restless. Disgruntled. Impatient. Worried. Longing for something that I don't have, even when I don't have the slightest idea what that might be. I don't think I'm unique in this. There's this hole inside, and we all want to fill it with something, and we might even know that it's, as they say, "God-shaped," but God is mysterious and invisible and what would it mean for God to fill that hole anyway? So the sense of emptiness, the lack of fulfillment remains, a nagging doubt, an itch that can't be scratched. The ought is mental; the itch is visceral.
As much as I always have to be grateful for, these days I have decidedly more. People are making us meals, cleaning our toilets, weeding our yard, driving me places, loaning us equipment, bringing flowers and chocolates and company. I am grateful. Not ought-to-be, am.
But there's this other sneaky little thing that happens in my head. People come and give and give some more, and my mental accountant wants to keep a tab. She starts tallying up how I can someday repay all of this completely gratuitous generosity. I actually said out loud one day, "I'll never be able to repay all of these gifts." You don't repay gifts. That's not what a gift is, something to be repaid.
And, if there were cause for repayment, I couldn't accomplish it in a dozen lifetimes, let alone one. I could never make these many meals, make adequate return on these many offerings of love. Never.
All I can do is receive.
I made myself a promise as I realized that we were going to need help and lots of it that when people offered, I would say, "Yes. Thank you." Period. I would not pretend not to be in need, when we are so clearly in need. I would not second-guess someone's willingness or sincerity. I would say, yes and thank you and trust that my family and friends are adults and know what they can do and are willing to do and are offering what they want to give. I have said yes to a brand new $350 fancy blender bought with pooled money and delivered in love. I have said yes to a visit from a dear friend who has to take an airplane to get here. Yes.
Then there are the times that, in spite of the many generous offers, I need to ask for the help that I need. This is even more difficult. But I have no choice. It's not virtue, but necessity, so I do it, sometimes through gritted teeth, sometimes through tears, always through too much apologizing. I have to ask for people to come and sit with me so that my 10 year old doesn't have to make my lunch again. I have to ask people to lift me up and down stairs so I can leave the house. I have to ask people to accompany me to the toilet.
Not every job is for everyone, so we're all discerning. I have one friend who can hitch up my underwear and bring me chocolate milkshakes and sit and listen to me cry and make me laugh, but she doesn't do dishes or bring casseroles. That's good, or we'd have too much casserole. On the other hand, by God, we need the casseroles, some of which have been delivered by people whose names I didn't know, people who worship with us, but whom we have never even met.
I sometimes feel grateful to the point of being overwhelmed, teary, speechless, in awe.
But more even than that, there is gratitude that has quietly risen to the surface in tiny, unexpected ways, like soap bubbles, effervescent, fragile. If I weren't moving so slow, I wouldn't be paying enough attention, and I'd miss them. They'd disappear before I saw their fragile surfaces reflecting the light.
It's the gratitude I feel when I look at Green Mountain, near our home, and see how green it is. I'm not out much, so days go by and the season is changing without me, and I notice, like you do when you see a child you haven't been with in a while and say, even though she hears it all the time and is sick of hearing it, "You've gotten so big!" "Green Mountain, you've gotten so green!"
For days and weeks eating was difficult. Meals take more effort than I ever knew -- sitting up, getting a fork to my mouth, swallowing. It was all too much work, and I relied for some time on a lot of blended drinks (hence, the gift of the blender). Now my swallow is improving and I can eat most solid foods again, and I cannot get over how delightful it feels to chew and swallow and feel my stomach fill and remain satisfied for a long time, even on the prednisone, that makes me hungry all the time. I am grateful, soap bubble grateful, for solid food.
I trust that other little miracles will bubble to the surface. The first time I am able to wash my own hair again or get out of bed by myself or climb the stairs or walk the dog or drive the car. I don't want to miss them. I don't want to be moving so fast that the come and go, rise and pop, before I notice them.