We were in Chicago a few weeks ago and the kids ran around the house and actually slept at night (by golly!).
Then this thing happened, that hasn’t happened for a little while. First, I put Kaiden down for a nap. He was curled like a soft animal, in his pack-and-play, crying, and I watched him for a moment, standing there at the edge.
I realized I had nothing to do, and nowhere to be. I climbed into his pack-n-play and wriggled my body into a kind of L-shape next to his chubby limbs. And there we lay. After a while, he kind of forgot that I was there, and I soaked up the smell of his curly golden locks, like syrup. I watched his tiny fingers play with his zipper, and the way that his lips pursed and he breathed like a kitten breathes: its rib cage visibly compressing and decompressing, its very knowable, breathing life right there—hard as its tiny miniature bones.
Right then and there, I fell in love with gratitude again, that slippery, sweet taste that comes into your mouth when you have paused, and when an unexpected gift slips right into your fingers, like a sweet candy or a the icing on a cookie melting on lips.
At first I thought: this is it. This is life. When gratitude slips in and holds your hand. I live for these moments. But then I thought about all the harder times, when gratitude is still slippery, but like a slinky salamander sliding through your fingers, and out, into the water, and then it is gone. Just gone. I thought about all the times where I’ve had to crawl towards thankfulness, and where it has been less sudden and more brutal, and less kind, and more like a cookie with gritty sand crunching in your teeth; you have to nibble around the edges to get the good bits.
I am not a “one thousand gifts” type person. By that I mean, the idea of “writing down things I am grateful for” makes me nauseous. Chris suggests that I might be in a better mood if I made this a habit, but I stubbornly refuse to believe that gratitude is a list of inane items I’ve come up with before my morning shower. I wish I was naturally optimistic, naturally thankful, naturally joyous, but these things don’t come naturally to me, so I feel like I might need to give this list-making a chance. Usually gratitude feels to me like wringing out a damp dish towel, trying to get the few drops of honeyed appreciation out. Perhaps writing it down is the answer. Maybe thankfulness is something like beckoning a skittish dog closer and closer.
Along the way, as I’ve thought about gratitude, I’ve realized that it comes in a million forms. It can be fancy, or simple, or brutal, or life-changing. It is this multitudinous, faceted thing, like a complex clock. I can cultivate gratitude, like a garden, and dig in the dirt of it and give the bulbs a chance to become flowers. And I can also wait for gratitude, like I waited that day with Kaiden, and my heart filled beyond capacity with warmth and hope and I was surprised by joy.
Sometimes gratitude comes fast and hard like a rough wave, dousing you in it’s force. Sometimes you get back up, laughing and shaking and teary-eyed with delight. Sometimes gratitude is hard as a black pebble in your palm, and you have to hold it and see it, and really look at it to know it.
Sometimes gratitude is crawling on your hands and knees, bloodied and barren, to surrender, but sometimes gratitude is like balloons falling, silver and gold diaphonous orbs streaked with sun, like pure grace bouncing on your head.