By Elizabeth Speth
Sometimes I am under the mistaken impression that mine is a stressful life.
I get caught on the daily snags, frayed by arbitrary deadlines and timetables. I labor under the myth that all should be smooth sailing, and anything else is intolerable.
I furrow my brow, jut my chin, tap my fingers. My body automatically assumes the posture of someone waiting to speak to management about a refund for bad service.
I think something is owed to me for my less-than-satisfactory experience.
Then I listen to the news, and I hear about people with real problems. Not of the dishwasher-is-broken, fender-bender-at-the-intersection, offspring-not-behaving, too-much-to-do-at-work variety.
There are people who don’t have food, clothing or shelter. They don’t have a basic assumption that they will be treated humanely. They aren’t granted an inherent value just because they exist. Or the right to speak or believe freely, to keep their families safe and together.
So I know it’s time to pull out the battered, much-written-in, thumbed-through Gratitude Journal. Because I have much to be thankful for, large and small things, and I’d best take note of them.
Grateful people are happy people — it’s a simple fact and one that we are prone to forgetting. That’s why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.
I don’t know why I’m so lucky. There are worthier people out there who have so much less, who would do so much more with what I’ve been given. The absolute least I can do is say a resounding ‘Thank You!’ and never, ever forget it.
So, without further ado, my Gratitude Journal entries for just this week:
At the top of the list, after family and health, I always have to list my horse Rushcreek Newly.
He was bred, born and spent his young life on a cattle ranch in Nebraska, and that makes him very special. Because the cowboys at Rushcreek Ranch understood a thing or two about building a good horse. First, they only bred strong, smart, friendly beasts. They let them run in large bands over vast spaces, let them teach each other about social structure and navigating rocky terrain and snow. They learned how to break through ice to drink in winter. They were all put under saddle, gently, at the age of three. Many of them worked cows, which is so good for a horse’s mind. Then they were turned back out for a year, back to the wild far reaches of the ranch with their herds, to think about things and settle a bit.
My Newly is an old soul. Rushcreek Ranch called for a combination of athleticism and reason, self-sufficiency and sensitivity, and conjured up Newly from a former life. I suspect he was a lawman, an upstanding town sheriff or the like in his past existence. He is calm, fair, absolute. And he’s mine. I still can’t get over that fact.
Journal Entry Number Two this week is an expression of thanks for my hiking adventures. In addition to horseback riding in this wonderful Northern California landscape, I have two good feet and two strong legs that I am obliged to keep viable by traipsing through the breathtaking American River Canyon.
This week I climbed impossibly steep hills to remember that discomfort is rarely an enemy. It is a thing to pass through on your way to greater strength. I reminded myself that I am capable of putting one hiking shoe in front of the other until I get where I am going.
Because it’s spring, I also got to see wildflowers. And it’s only the beginning of wildflower season. Some people are still shoveling snow, and others are shuffling across drought-cracked bare earth, and here I am looking at volunteer flowers.
After the hiking there was beer at my favorite alehouse.
And, because beer doesn’t drink itself (thank goodness!), my wonderful fellow hikers and I raised glasses of it as we said we were grateful for each other, and it was true.
That’s a lot of gratitude so far, but I have more.
This week, between work and grocery shopping, as I sometimes do, I stopped at my favorite Japanese restaurant for an early dinner. I’m a vegan and my family isn’t, and sometimes the thought of cooking two meals is just a bit much. So I take care of mine this way.
I waved away the menu as I was seated, ordering the one roll on the menu that I can eat. It’s a very good roll, with mushrooms, avacado, mango, spinach and cilantro. I love it. I get some sake. Read a book. Exhale before I begin trudging through the errands between work and evening chores and responsibilities.
The server nodded, opened his mouth as if to say something, then closed it. He headed toward the sushi bar to place my order.
But then he turned around and came back. He said: “Why do you always order the same thing?”
He gestured toward the bar. “We have so many beautiful ingredients. Tuna, fish, crab, all very fresh and good.”
I gave him what I imagine was a sad smile.
“I know,” I said. “I always look at it all and wish I could eat it. But I’m a vegan. No dairy, eggs, meat, shellfish. This is the thing on your menu I can eat. And I love it.”
“We will make something good for you,” he said decisively. “Vegan is no problem.”
And that was that. He and the sushi chef had a quick exchange. He brought me some sake, and then a few moments later he brought this.
I almost wept as I ate it. It was that good. Tempura vegetables, ginger, avocado, thinly-shaved and fried tofu… It was a tremendous gift. A thing of beauty. Unsolicited generosity and kindness. And so delicious.
There is more. Much more. I could scrawl all over the Gratitude Journal, with cramped writing in the margins and on the inside covers, and not get it all down. But I’ve taken enough of your time, for which I am grateful.
I don’t know what sort of gratitude journal you keep, whether mental, written or photographic. All sorts of things count. Drinking a toast to someone you love counts as a journal entry in my book.
I just think it’s important to feel the thankfulness. To slow down and notice it, pay attention to what provoked it, and honor it somehow. Record it, commit it to your spiritual memory again and again until one day when, unbidden and unexpectedly, a feeling of well-being creeps in.
Keep recording. Keep thanking. Keep focusing on the good things. Some days they are a mite small, but they are there.
I wish us all many, many full journals.