Learning gratitude

Featured image
A cherry blossom sighting. Photo: JH.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021. It was a bright and sunny day yesterday in New York. The temp was hovering around 60 and in the sunlight you could see some of the trees’ buds just beginning. These are the messages we all need right now for it remains a difficult time for many. 

New York has resumed a lot of its weekday traffic, although midtown avenues — other than its roadways — are still very quiet, very little street-life. There remains a lot of apartment construction going on all over Manhattan, its space-taking also crowding in the vehicular volume. More apparent than ever before are the bicycles, many of which are motorized; and the scooters, also many of which are motorized. They move very quickly, taking many daily risks and require pedestrians to pay close attention.

What’s good for the goose.

Put it all together on all the avenues, and you’ve got daily life in New York slowly coming back. Lots of people are out too, and we’ve had some nice sunny weather. Although the masks have turned a fascinating passing parade into anonymous creatures of all shapes and sizes (and fashion) going their individual ways. This is a new experience for all of us whether we recognize it or not. It has never been thus before. And it is a separating albeit not so’s ya’d notice.

Meanwhile, the beat goes on. It is New York. The restaurants near and far are comfort stations and a big pleasure. I like the noise of many voices all conversing. I should know. For this observer, after years of packed daily (and nightly) calendars that was also New York, the view from my the living room window is often the extent of my working environment these days.But that is also a pleasure. There are lots of children of all ages, and dogs of all breeds (and delivery trucks galore in the mornings). And families and nannies and the older set getting some exercise along with the joggers and runners quickly moving through. All those separate lives and separate worlds altogether now.

But there is also the silent side of it which after more than a year, has been wearing. More recently I’ve been resuscitating my attitudes with some self-applied thinking to keep up the spirit.

Gratitude to the Rescue. I learned about Gratitude and Gratitude Lists in a 12 Step program (Al-Anon) back in Los Angeles years ago. Someone advised that it was a helpful tool in getting through harsh moments when emotions are in the driver’s seat and pressing the accelerator. Make a list of things you’re grateful for, is the simple instruction. This can be more difficult than it sounds because when the emotions are driving, the noise they create in your head is often a deafening sound.

There was a particular incident in my life about 30 years ago when I moved here from Los Angeles, and in quite uneasy circumstances trying to jump-start myself as a writer in need of making a living. One winter morning I happened to have a conversation with a woman friend on the phone. I can’t recall what it was that set me off in a harangue, but my friend responded with some sarcastic and cutting words that sliced back to my childhood feelings of vulnerability. Those are the feelings that often burden us since children are more vulnerable and dependent. 

It was quite clearly a historical reaction to those times long ago. But it disturbed me that I was still feeling that vulnerable.

I was crushed. It was exacerbated by the fact that I really love this woman and her words were harshly insensitive, or at least thoughtless. I fell into a depression instantly — one of those moments when you’re overwhelmed and feel you can’t control your feelings.

Some might take a tranquilizer at that moment. My instinctive solution would have been to take a nap (anything to turn off my mind). But it so happened that morning I had a “grown-up” responsibility to take care of first: I had to go over to someone’s apartment to pick up a photo I was using for a piece I was writing for Quest. I had to deliver the photo that day for the printer. Reality. The writer’s fee.

So what with my Sturm und Drang whirling inside my mind, I decided that maybe a nice long walk to retrieve the photo would help. I couldn’t do anything about my friend’s words but I could possibly clean out my own head.

It also happened to be one of those ugly, cold and frigid grey mid-winter days in New York where very little on the exterior of the city looks good or inviting, and you’re conjuring up other climates (or seasons) for inner relief. A perfect day to hide your head under the covers.

It was an eight block crosstown walk; a long one for the bitter cold. Frustrated by my state of mind, I recalled the advice about a Gratitude List as something to focus on when you’re down (and feeling out).

So there I was on this grey pavement under cold grey skies in search of gratitude. I decided to take whatever came along. The first thing was a young woman wheeling a stroller toward me. Inside was a cute little one with a smiling face, far far away from my state of mind. I love children. That was my first entry to the Gratitude List.

And then, when I was looking up, streaking high across the sky was a shiny grey 747, heading off to other places and other lives. I have always been amazed by the miracle of these enormous machines lifting off the earth and flying around the globe. Second entry.

Then there were the 19th century doorways I passed on the West Side street and all  the lives and stories behind them.  And the people — people I don’t know — on the street going about their lives. I put them on all my List because it soon occurred to me that I was glad and grateful to be here. To be able to walk there, to have that assignment, to earn that fee, and to have so many other wonderful people in my life.

By the time I reached my destination the previously overwhelming state of depression had virtually disappeared.
I was amazed at the effectiveness of Gratitude as a zen-like device. The same aforementioned friend who can be loose-lipped and unthinking with her words at times, went down that road again at other times afterwards. But her words no longer had the same effect. In fact, they provoke laughter in me. I love her. I’m grateful. Okay.

Recent Posts