Is Gratitude "Polly-anna" in such dark times?
Okay, it feels like I’m asking this question TOO often but such is life right now…”What good is gratitude during such heavy times?”
I won’t lie friends. I spent much of this week not wanting to get out of bed. Two more mass shootings in such a short span of time, more lives lost, more heartache and fear. And even more clarity that we have an epidemic of racism and hate fueling this violence. And so yes, I felt helpless of what to do and how to keep “positive” through the fight.
If this question has been tossing around your mind and heart, this throwback post is for you.
First of all, there is no need to be “positive.”
No change in this world ever occurred because individuals faked their emotions.
Be angry, scared, incredulous, all of it. That’s your right and your human capacity.
But then how the hell can you find gratitude when life feels so heavy?
I’m right there with ya’ friend.
Remember I was even asked this question in a radio interview on gratitude after I discussed the power of finding gratitude for even the most challenging situations of your life? "Really," Bill Radke, my thoughtful interviewer asked, "are you saying we could be grateful for injustice like oppression or murder...?"
Let me be clear once again. No tool, not gratitude, not compassion, nothing can justify evil.
We cannot reason any of that to be RIGHT. And those tools also cannot make intellectual sense out of tragic loss.
More lives have senselessly and violently been lost, hatred and racism have fueled the loss and none of it is reasoned away by any tool we humans possess.
Plain and simple. They all represent pain. And pain is real.
But what is also real is that we as humans must balance somehow eventually in our hearts the pain of the world and our own individual lives with a way to find hope and beauty.
There is no timeline to any of that. We are allowed to grieve, cry, scream out and fight for as long as we need. But all of that can coexist with a faith that as deep as our pain or anger may be, it is only a sign of how deeply we love, care and walk in this world. All of it is a sign that we are truly alive.
Remember my friend that the depths of grief are a measure of the capacity we have to deeply love and care for the world around us.
And moreover, in direct opposition to the hate behind these shootings, if you truly believe that we are all one…I do…then you must see that when others hurt, we hurt. When loss happens to other families, no matter how far or distant in our sphere, we feel loss.
And so I remind you of my answer to how gratitude could possibly be part of my answer to this pain:
“…I cannot find gratitude IN the injustice, but I find gratitude for my capacity to see the injustice, for walking this journey with others who see it so deeply like you, for fighting together as a community, for knowing that our power grows as we work together. My gratitude for our knowing and feeling serves as a companion to my pain and helps buoy me through the pain. So that I may continue to do the work of being human and fight for what is right. All of this makes the light of what is right and just, shine brighter for me…”
And so when life is falling apart before us, sometimes the gratitude is just that we woke up for yet another day of what feels like searing pain.
That we had the courage to open our eyes and do it all over again.
Courage to help make it right.
Because if we want to be on the right side of history, we need to have faith that the next lines in this story can be rewritten in a much more just way.
Because if we want to meet the dark recesses of hate, we must have the courage to find love again.
You can see this takes faith. Faith in life and most of all, faith in ourselves. I cannot sugar coat this. The path is a difficult one but one that must be walked if we want to find joy again.
And especially, if it is oppression or racism that is causing us pain, we must walk this path to be able to join the fight again.
There is no way to manage the onslaught of the world today without tools to find our own light. And I implore you, it will take all of us to join this fight so we must find a way to find our own faith and hope. This is not “putting a positive light,” it is allowing universal forces of good to accompany us on this journey through evil we could not have imagined.
No, we cannot reason or justify evil or tragedy.
They both exist and there is no way to intellectualize them.
But we must create so much light around and within us that we transcend this darkness.
And one way to create that light is through gratitude. Every small step (no matter how minuscule you may think the step is) of gratefulness we can find in the midst of burning pain, the fact is we are creating a spark of light in the darkness. Until eventually we can find a way to climb out onto the path again.
We all need to nurture ourselves in times of pain. That is why the support of loved ones is so crucial. They hold us when we cannot hold ourselves. We can also add in gratitude to buoy ourselves. It does not erase pain but it allows us to breathe through it.
One of my favorite authors, Isabel Allende, explained how we all have "interminable winters" in our lives. One of hers was her own daughter's death. But she illustrated as well that we all also have an "invincible summer" waiting within us. This is the ultimate faith but one that has carried her through loss, political oppression and hardship.
I would argue that not only is there a role for gratitude when life seems the most unfair, it is most likely the absolute most important time to employ this sacred tool.
It is a life preserver until we can find steady ground again.
Until we find our own invincible summer deep inside.