A couple of weeks ago my nephew was over and he asked me about the little blue jar I keep stuffed with slips of paper. I explained that, for the past few years, I’ve been filling a Gratitude Jar. Every day I write down the best thing that happened during the day or something I’m thankful for. On New Year’s Eve, I empty the jar and read back over the year’s Gratitude, much of which I will have forgotten about.
This is always a lovely practice but I appreciate it even more now. It became clear to me that, even during one of the darkest and most challenging years of my life, there was always something to be grateful for. Most days, I had more than one thing I could have written down, which is astounding.
My jar is already filled to the brim, with another month to go before the New Year. I know that my heart will be so full when I look back over the rocky path that was 2019 and realize that I was carried across that terrain with Grace.
Happy Thanksgiving, friends!
The more I incorporate mindfulness into my life, the more I become aware of how mind-less most of us are, much of the time. It’s easy to miss out on the moments that would allow more connection, gratitude and ease to flow our way.
I ordered coffee the other day and the woman at the window shoved the cup towards me without looking and then walked away without speaking, completely missing the fact that I was holding out a tip for her. So many drivers waiting for a left-turn opportunity, in an endless stream of traffic, miss the quick headlight blinking from a driver trying to let them go ahead, because they are staring down at their phones or off into space instead of watching for their chance. And how many of us miss the few seconds of direct eye contact and a smile from another stranger because we are gazing at the pavement, our phone, or in avoidance to the side of the other person’s face as we pass?
I am convinced that Grace surrounds us at all times but we have to look for it and be receptive to those fleeting moments when they arise. Doing so can make all the difference between a disconnected day or a day filled with surprising bliss.
Today I finally let go of a burden I’ve been carrying around with me for 17 years…my wedding gown, and everything it represented. I always thought I’d be married in white but my best friend worked in a bridal boutique. By then I was living in Boston but I flew back to Indiana and she took me into the shop when it was closed so I could try on gowns she’d set aside. The one she thought was meant for me was indeed the one I fell in love with–a shimmering, beaded, periwinkle blue. Tradition was still so important to me at the time that I struggled to give desire a place over expectation. But we called in my friend’s husband and he agreed–the blue gown was the one.
There were multiple somber notes beneath my wedding ceremony: the knowledge that my husband was newly diagnosed with Bipolar disorder and resisting a cocktail of meds that made him comatose and disinterested in me or anything else; the time that I postponed marriage until he was willing to seek medical attention–something he didn’t want to do–and he confiscated my engagement ring in a rage; his fights with his overbearing mother that my family tried to shield me from on the day; the hints of hesitation from people who loved me; the fact that when I asked my husband for a chair during our reception–because I couldn’t wrangle one in my gown–he impatiently replied, “In a minute” and dashed off to talk to someone, leaving one of my friends to help me instead as I flushed with humiliation.
I stayed married years longer than I should have. I held on to my husband’s letters and mementos even longer. When I finally made the big move from California back to Massachusetts, I looked through all of those keepsakes and realized that nearly every single card and letter from him contained an apology for something hurtful he had said or done. I cried for the first time in many years, knowing I would no longer keep them. I didn’t even miss him anymore but the grief was still there. The gown stuck around even longer, mostly in a closet or basement where my parents lived. Even though I knew I wouldn’t have children, there was a vague idea in my mind that the gown would go to someone special, or that it was too beautiful not to commemorate in some way.
At last, when I knew I was settling back in Massachusetts for good, I was ready to say goodbye to the gown. I tried selling it, I thought about dropping it off at a thrift store, but it still took a couple more years for it go. Then, recently, my mom discovered a local charity that accepts wedding gown donations. They take apart the gowns and re-purpose them to make burial gowns for infants who have passed away, for the families who need something beautiful to dress their sweet babies in. At once, I knew this was the place for my gown.
Last night, I took out my gown for one last look. I tried it on, ran my hands over the fabric, and thought about what that day, that marriage, that man, had meant to me. I cried from a lingering grief, which I honestly didn’t expect. The person I was when I wore that gown seems like an entirely different woman–a girl, really–from an entirely different life. While I truly wish the best for my ex-husband, I haven’t seen or spoken to him in many years, and I don’t miss him. It’s hard to imagine ever having been in that relationship but it was my first real, glorious, love and it contained oceans of passion. I also said a prayer over the gown, that it might provide one small drop of comfort or peace to a family facing the worst day of their lives.
It’s always been so very hard for me to let go but this was the year that taught me how to do it. In place of all of my history, experience, loss, regret, mistakes, growth, and–yes–love, is just…space. Having lost nearly everything this year, I don’t know what shape my life is going to take next but I have nothing but hope. A college friend recently posted that he had found “deep and abiding” love; that it had taken him 44 years but that it was worth the wait. I turned 44 last week and his post made me smile; maybe abiding love will find me yet.