Of Gratitude and Guilt

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude and more specifically the many reasons I have to be grateful. And you probably realize when I spend a lot of time considering any idea, the end result is a blog post.

But when I thought about sitting down to list the many things I am thankful for, I realized such a post usually comes across as gloating.

You know what I mean. We’ve all seen them — the Instagram photos or personal blogs about someone’s beautiful children, wonderful husband, and fabulous life, and how #blessed and #grateful they are to have achieved such perfection.

Well, I’m confident enough (or maybe just old enough) to find this type of thing merely annoying rather than undermining, and luckily Instagram has a couple of buttons to make them less common on my feed (“unfollow” and “block” come to mind).

My life is not perfect because I am not perfect.

Still, I am grateful because I know I am (no-hashtag) blessed.

As I write this, I am sitting in our living room, which I finally managed to decorate for Christmas, and if I squint and/or turn the overhead ligths off, I can manage to see only the beauty of holiday exhibited by the items we’ve accumulated through the years.

If, on the other hand, I leave the lights on and my eyes wide open, the clutter covering the coffee table becomes apparent — a large basket overflowing with magazines and books, several stacks of DVDs and still more books, plus multiple remotes for our outrageously large television.

I’m ashamed to admit I am grateful for that TV. We got it several years ago when we realized it was becoming increasingly difficult to make out the picture on our old one. It was the winter before the last World Cup, and we’d begun watching the few football games we could find on free TV. To our shock, the numbers on the jerseys seemed to have shrunk, and with the World Cup coming up, this was a problem. (Note: I use the term “football” in the global sense, referring to the game everyone but the US calls “football,” the one actually played with one’s feet.)

Anyway, we needed a new television, and with my blessing, The Engineer went shopping. I expected one with a larger screen, but when I saw what he bought, I had to laugh.

Going from our old television, which was about as deep as it was wide (no exaggeration) to the one we have now was like going from two tin cans and a string to a new iPhone. And I am so thankful we made that choice every time we watch Premier League football or a movie with a beautiful setting.

I should mention here that in my unperfect life, the television hangs above an old desk of my father’s (which I am also grateful to have, even though it’s held together more by hope than any structural integrity). Flanking that desk are two ugly wire frames holding dozens of CDs, and on it are my old computer and a stack of Christmas disks.

I’m grateful for the music on those CDs — Melissa Ethridge, Aimee Mann, Chris Isaak, several incarnations of a Very Special Christmas, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and more (so many more), which I play mostly when The Engineer isn’t home.

To my left is an old record cabinet that belonged to my grandparents. I’m not sure how I ended up with it, but it’s one of only two pieces of furniture I’ve ever refinished. It’s topped with stacks of books about France, because we plan to go there in several months, along with a few about Portugal and Spain because I also want to go to those countries again.

I’m grateful to be able to plan a trip, even if the execution of that plan may not come off because of COVID.

The record cabinet is filled with yarn. Beneath is a basket filled with yarn and an old step-stool that opens to a chair that my siblings and I used to use to brush our teeth. Beside it is my great-grandmother’s rocking chair, which I inherited from my mom.

I’m grateful for that chair because it is a link to those who came before me.

On the other side of the chair is another basket filled with yarn.

And we’re not done yet because beside the couch where I’m sitting is a large bag of yarn.

I’m grateful for the yarn. I usually get it cheap at thrift stores and use it to absent-mindedly crochet lap afghans to donate. I also have some scrubby yarn I paid full price for (GASP!), but that’s okay because one bundle makes a ton of scrubbies, and I give them away like candy.

Should we walk into the kitchen — or indeed, any other room in the house — we would find more stacks of stuff — mostly books and recipes, although the dining room table right now is home to a plastic tub of Christmas cards because there’s always someone I miss when I send ours, and I don’t want to have to run all the way upstairs just to quickly get a card in the return mail.

I’m grateful for those cards, even though I never pay more than a few dollars per box and sometimes feel it’s not worth the effort of sending them. I’m grateful because every time we go to the mailbox in December and find cards from distant (and not-so-distant) friends, I know it is worth it after all.

And I’m grateful for the recipes too, and the wherewithal to have enough time and money to try out some of them, even if they don’t always turn out as advertised.

And books … how can I possibly express how grateful I am for books? My love for books is more than love; it’s a (mostly) sociably acceptable addiction. Like Thomas Jefferson, I cannot live without books.

I should also mention central heating and programmable thermostats. In the winter, I am so very grateful to wake up to a warm house. I think of the ancestors in my family tree — some of whom feel as familiar to me as people I know — and know they would have been overwhelmed by this convenience we take so much for granted.

As I look over this list, I realize I have focused only on tangible, material items, when the things I’m most grateful for are not things; they are people.

My family — The Engineer, Darling Daughter, Aged Mother, sometimes worrying Brother — I am more grateful for them than I can express. The fact that we are all — at least for the moment — relatively well is an additional blessing because that is not always the case.

My friends — the one I frequently walk with, the ones I’ve known for more than forty years (and how can that be?), ones I met through various jobs and kept in touch with, even the ones I see only occasionally — each one makes my life infinitely richer.

The natural world and beauty which surrounds me every day, and the fact that my place of residence is within twenty minutes of more amazing parks than I can count — how lucky am I? Plus, there’s the endless entertainment supplied by the many squirrels and birds just outside our windows.

I think my favorite is when the squirrels take a nut or bit of bread we’ve tossed out and “hide” it in a tree. Yes, I know we’re not supposed feed them bread, but really our yard has so many nut trees, if they go for the bread too, I can’t imagine it’s going to seriously damage their health. And you can’t not laugh when you watch a squirrel carefully, well, squirrel away a piece of pita bread between a branch and a tree trunk as if s/he really expects it to be there when they get the munchies.

I have so much, how can I not feel guilty when there are others who are struggling? And yet, surely it would be much worse to not be thankful? If I try to be charitable with what I do have, doesn’t that balance things out at least a little?

Also, I have experienced enough loss, even tragedy, to know that smooth periods in life don’t last. Anything, even everything, could change tomorrow, so for now, when things are good, I am choosing to be grateful for my imperfect life.

But not #grateful.

2 thoughts on “Of Gratitude and Guilt

  1. I’m not #Anything, so I’m sending up huge hurrahs for such a sensible and thoroughly entertaining post 😊
    Having reached the age of Nearly 61 without succumbing to either the Book of Faces or #Instant Gratification, I’m hoping to keep it that way, so I really enjoy prose rather than hashtag moments, composition rather than snapshots and true gratitude rather soundbites. Do keep on doing you!

    Like

    • Thanks, Kate. I quit FB a long time ago, and Twitter shortly after. I didn’t like how riled up I got when I read the posts. I’m in Instagram mainly because I like to post pictures of the beautiful things I come across in daily life, but rarely, if ever, post photos of people. And I quickly unfollow anyone whose sole purpose on the platform seems to be to post photos of their #beautifullife.

      Hurrah for you for coming to a similar conclusion much sooner than me. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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