Bare Bones Gratitude
When I was very young, my grandparents took me on a cruise to the Bahamas. I was so young that I don’t remember much of the trip. I remember being in the plane, looking out the oval shaped window, and wishing I could take home a cloud for my mother. And I remember being on the boat when something huge rocked up against the side of it with enough force to scare me. Both of these memories remind me of today in different ways.
Nothing about the ocean scares me. Nothing about water frightens me. I’m a strong swimmer, I always have been and, while I’m probably not as good as I think I am, I have swam in open water and am fairly sure I’d be able to swim further than at least I think I can if push came to shove. That’s why, tonight, when reflecting on the day, I was started to realize that the image in my head wasn’t of calm swimming. It was that scary moment when you’re deep in ocean water and you can’t really make any headway because, just as soon as you’re about to get somewhere, a huge wave crashes upon you. Salt water fills your nostrils but before you can catch your breath, the wave swells and pushes you under. You surface, gasping, and have just a few moments to shake it off, take a few more strides and then—- oh it’s another wave and you’re going under again.
That was today.
The migraine pushed against the corners of my brain, swelling it until the rocket from last night became a roaring volcano. Doctors have always asked me to describe the migraine. The closest description I know to give is that, most of the time, it feels like a really sharp knife slicing my brain in two. I’ve often said it feels like I’m bleeding but on the inside of my brain. That doesn’t account for the throbbing, pulsating quivers that accompany the bleeding. But it comes as close as words allow. I’ve learned to cope but, when they are really bad, I double up on medicines and ride the wave until it crests. Focusing is hard, but I can do it. Then, during work, that feeling of having fifty thousand things to do and only a few hours to do them, of never being caught up, of treading water left me paralyzed for a few minutes with that ever constant fear of failure. That feeling was compounded when I had to deal with a crazy situation while being watched like a hawk; that brought on feelings of who do I think I am; I’m not a leader. Me, leading? Seriously? After the crazy was over, the colleagues were kind and I heaved a sigh of relief, feeling, once again, just like I have most of my life, like I’m really just good at pretending. I’ve learned: I’m good at pretending.
Eventually, the storm seemed to roll back; the waves stopped coming at ten second intervals and I was able to make at least a little headway. Even in the hold on, you’re almost there, kid department. Take enough pills and even my stubborn old migraine will get the hint it’s really not wanted and will recede. The volcano stopped pulsating long enough for me to breathe.
When it did, I started thinking about this journal. This week-long exercise I was [insert choice of adjective here] enough to commit to. Curiously, I glanced outside and I saw the moon. The first peak of it was not particularly encouraging because it’s only 3/4 full. The edge of it was darkened and that was just really sad to me…. at least at first. Of course it’s not full tonight, I thought to myself. Of course it’s not as as bright.
I left it and moved on.
But my eye kept drifting back to that moon. Tonight, I was really even overly curious about the number of stars I’d find. It was that not-quite-full moon that captured my attention. I stared at it, unintentionally, until I realized I was making up a story in my head about the missing part of that moon.
And that made me smile.
Of course I’m making a story about the silly moon, I thought. I’ve been making stories for nigh on thirty years. All right, I said to myself, go on with it then . And so I stared.
My List of Gratitude Today:
- My sweet girls, my family. Really, I’d be okay if I didn’t have anything else and, also, really, I’ve been very lucky. There are entirely too many people in this world that literally have no one. The sad part of the crazy situation at work tonight highlighted that truth. I, on the other hand, have never had to wonder whether or not I was loved.
- Imagination. Imagination saved my life. I quite literally, and from the depths of my soul, believe this. I believe that writing, pretending and storytelling was a gift from God that has enabled me to survive. I don’t have the kind of wild imagination that some do; there are literally thousands of writers who are way more talented than I will ever be. There are writers who write about topics that are important and that matter, just like I like to think mine do. But, for me, writing is not really about how well I do it, or don’t do it. Writing is a way of hoping. Pretending is a way of thriving when I’m not sure I’m even really surviving. The really good part is that I also believe every single one of us have such a gift — maybe not imagination, maybe it’s an Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking type of gift. Maybe it’s an Oprah Winfrey type of gift, or maybe none of those. Maybe it’s music. Maybe it’s sports. Maybe it’s predicting election outcomes and being right every time since 1984 (Allan Lichtman). Who knows? The point is: we all have one. It’s just whether or not we recognize and cultivate it.
Tonight, I saw thirty five stars. Last night, I saw way more. But, by the time I counted them tonight, I didn’t care about how many there were. Instead, my heart was softened by the moon and imagining giant oceans of water creating storms and carving out mountains on an otherwise uninhabited planet. How beautiful that would be. (Note: I did not say it would be beautiful to move to the moon or Mars or any other planet. I said it would be beautiful if it were uninhabited except for nature).
My heart was cushioned by the idea that maybe I didn’t really need the full light of the moon. I have what I need: my daughters, my family. The ability and the health to work; my faith. And the ability to dream. Beyond those things, everything and anything else is extra. The moon wasn’t full. But that darkened patch — there’s someone across the world who’s staring at the moon tonight, too. And her moon is full. The light passes from one of us to the next, shining on those who need it the most. One of the reasons I’m really enjoying this stare at the sky every night for no reason exercise is because it gives me a few minutes to stop. And, when I stop, I remember that, as important as it is to do all of the other grown up things I have to do, it’s equally as important to nurture and cultivate that which hydrates my heart. If five minutes of pretending the outside world isn’t real refreshes my mind and strengthens my belief in tomorrow, well, then, that five minutes is as important as the food that gives me the energy with which to face the day.
When I was a little girl, in the airplane, on the way to the cruise with my grandparents, I still remember looking out the window and wishing I could take a piece of cloud home with me to my mother and I didn’t understand why I couldn’t open the window and grab a handful of the wispy cotton that was so tantalizingly close.
But maybe I can because on this day of “bare boned” hope and an exhaustion that belies the smile, I made a story about the moon. And how the oceans on the moon created clouds that could swim.