Readers Write on Gratitude

Today, I am reposting the three essays on gratitude submitted by three writing readers, Melissa, Scott and Amy, who graced us with their true stories. Read together, these deep dives into gratitude release me from the artificial aspects of this holiday and help me to land on what really matters – love.

WHAT I LEARN FROM MARLEY BOY by Melissa S.

“What have you learned from your dog?”

I was asked this question on the first day of training to become a Pet Partner. Marley and I started training together to become an Animal Assisted Therapy Team.  Tears came to my eyes as I pondered the question, which was rather embarrassing in the room full of strangers. 

Marley was the first dog that was really mine (I should say ours)!  My husband Jeff and I adopted him when he was 6 months of age in 2007. He had been transported to a New Jersey shelter from a North Carolina kill shelter. He and his sister were left at the Carolina shelter because the owner said they would not live outside chained to a fence.  Sad for the sweet pups, lucky for us!

One of the first things I learned from this little pooch was acceptance and openness.  This little furry fellow wanted to greet anyone and anything at anytime.  We humans are so hesitant to do that; we have become so fearful of opening ourselves up to simply say “hello” to one another. 

Since those first few months of getting to know Marley, I was touched and amazed by the nature of this beautiful creature.  Marley was not like other dogs I have known.  Maybe that sounds cliché and every dog owner thinks the same of THEIR dog, but from the beginning, my Marley’s laid-back nature has often took others by surprise.  So many would say, “There is something wrong with him, for his age and breed, he should be much more active than that.”  But they were wrong.  It was just the way Marley was.  Not to say, he wasn’t active and crazy at times, but his basic nature was always calm, sweet and gentle.  Watching him interact with children at a store or on a walk by the river become one of my favorite things.  Seeing that little stub of a tail start to wiggle and wag and how he softly nudged a child’s belly, then plopped himself down at their feet and wouldn’t budge, tickled my heart.  The image of Marley waiting by the bathroom door when my little niece was ill still lingers.  He sat in the hallway just outside the room waiting so patiently. As soon as she opened the door and scooted over to him, he laid his paw on her lap and sat there with her, calmly and sweetly until she felt better.  Marley taught me how to treat children by being excited to see them, approaching them gently and letting them know that they mattered.  

Persistence was another quality I observed in my boy.  There were three cats in our household who had no desire to engage with the big furry intruder.  Marley never stopped trying.  Every morning he looked for them, greeted them eagerly, often whining, begging for play time.  Sad to say, his efforts usually lead to a hiss a paw smack upside his head, but he never gave up! 

As time marched on however, the most important insight this animal brought to my life was how to live in the moment and for a lack of a better phrase, smell the flowers!  Countless times as we stroll down the street, at a moment’s notice and for no apparent reason, Marley would come to a complete hault.  He looked about purposefully wiggling his snout as he began to sniff the air, and I am certain, was waiting to hear the birds chirp!  Often he would turn his face to the wind as his eyes began to close as if he was reveling in the feeling of a soft breeze sliding across his brow.  OR, he would choose to throw himself in the grass and roll gleefully from side to side in sheer delight.  There he would lie, flat on his back, appendages dangling looking at me as if to say, “It’s so cool to see the world upside down, Mom!”  Maybe he was onto something!  

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The lessons and gratitude continued until my sweet boy reached 15 years and 2 months. Marley had several medical issues, none of which stopped him.  My dear furry son kept going with that little wiggle in his derriere and the twinkle in his eyes.  However, on March 3, 2022, the twinkle turned to fatigue, the wiggle was gone. I knew the time had come, he was ready.  He let me know as I always prayed he would.  Saying goodbye was of course gut wrenching.  My heart still aches and the tears still flow. But knowing and caring for him was the most amazing gift, for which I will be eternally grateful.  How blessed I am for having shared the many years of loving and learning with the fluffy, black and white Zen dog, My Marley boy!

Feeling the need to be in your grief a bit more? Please check out Scott’s song, “Leave Your Heart Open” by clicking here

SAVED BY A SONG by Scott M.

Several years after my divorce, my son began elementary school. This required my driving him forty minutes twice per week to his school which was close to his mom’s house. This was his legal home, where he lived over half the time. The ride there was always joyous because he was with me, but that long drive home alone always twisted that “my son was only with me part-time” knife. During this return drive, I would turn on the radio or play CDs to attempt to distract myself from the agony.

George Harrison

One particular morning on the drive back, I was feeling pretty low knowing I’d not see my little boy for several days. Suddenly this new version of George Harrison’s song, My Sweet Lord, came on the radio. This was not the song I knew. Apparently, this recording was from a new collection called My Sweet Lord 2000. I was stunned at how different George sounded; he was joyous while singing, rather than voicing the more serious tone of the original where he clearly was testifying his intent to be close to God. This new version, right down to the new guitar tracks, was celebratory and filled with swirling happiness and contentment. He was telling us that he had made it happen and was sharing his journey. One must listen to both versions back-to-back, to truly understand. The difference is profound and deeply beautiful.

George’s joy seeped deeply into me on this particular drive home and I found myself realizing that all would be well. It was, frankly, miraculous. I listened to this version many times for the next few years during those lonely drives home; I would find myself feeling as if lifted and held in the air, warmed by the sun. This new version of My Sweet Lord helped me find ways to cope. It gave me hope.

Over time, my son grew up, got married, and turned me into a grandpa. While all that life was happening, my second wife and I had a baby girl. Having a second child who was ten years younger than my son offered opportunities to relive many things, good and bad. For the most part, I did a pretty good job of being smarter. The other day, however, so many difficult pre-teen pressures, sass, defiance, and feelings of fatigue overwhelmed me to the core. It was not pretty.

I headed out in my pickup truck to hunt down a book for my daughter that was needed for a very-late book report. I was feeling worn to the bone and pretty done, frankly. I found myself wondering if I could survive all the coming drama at my age and if I’d be able to live up to the task of being a good parent. I did not want to let my little girl down during these critical years, but I was not filled with hope, to say the least.

Then once again out of the blue, came George. I turned on the radio and it linked with my phone through Bluetooth, despite my thinking the phone was off. On came My Sweet Lord 2000. I had forgotten it was still in my library. I hadn’t heard it in years.

At this moment all I could think of was my little boy, the old divorce, the pain and loss, and those long days without him. I began to relive the sadness, feeling helpless about the pressures of my second child, so many years later. Yes, we all know a song can take us back to those moments. But… George knew and was prepared. The drums kicked in, and the older, wiser, and more joyous George’s vision filled the cabin of my pickup truck. I was reminded yet again, years later, that all would be well. 

GRATEFUL FOR GRATITUDE by Amy G.

As I sat with this piece, as I’ve learned to do, I realized I was headed down an impossible road. Writing about gratitude led me to perspective. Perspective led me to privilege. Privilege led me to empathy. Empathy led me to balance. I felt like I couldn’t write about gratitude without writing about every single thing that’s important to me. I don’t think Scott wants me to take over his blog, so you’re only getting my thoughts on gratitude, as requested. But dear reader, please know that gratitude is the hub – the rest of the wheel doesn’t roll without it.

My husband, Rob, was a recovering alcoholic who regained his sobriety with the help of AA. We were not married when he got sober, and my need to better understand addiction and its impact led me to Al-Anon. Rob and I often went together, as both of his parents had been alcoholics, and he found Al-Anon meetings at least as helpful as AA – perhaps more so. Though we eventually stopped going to meetings, a number of the 12-step principles stayed with me, particularly gratitude.

While Rob was sick with – and ultimately dying from – cancer, I had a gratitude jar. They were all the rage at the time – Oprah or Elizabeth Gilbert or some other media guru of middle-aged women was promoting them. Every night, I’d write one thing I was grateful for on a slip of paper, fold it up, and drop it in the jar. Some people emptied their jar once a year and reviewed all the things they were grateful for. Mine is in a box in my basement. Perhaps I’ll go through it one day. Perhaps not.

More regularly, I’ve kept a daily gratitude journal. In the journal, I write three things I’m grateful for. I think the jar helped when Rob was sick because there were certainly days where I didn’t feel like I could come up with more than one thing.

Whether I’m writing three a day or eking out one, some days it’s easy – three things will pop into my head immediately – and some days, it’s a challenge. I can usually come up with one thing pretty easily. Sometimes, it’s gratitude that the day is over, or that the weather was good. Sometimes, I have to focus on the basics – I have a warm house, plenty of food, a loving relationship, good people in my life. 

Some of my other regular themes are nature, pets, good food/wine, a great book, gratifying moments at work, soulful live music, and yoga – all things that are accessible, not at all impossible. It’s much too easy to take these things for granted, and when that happens, I start to feel feelings that aren’t necessarily grounded in reality but in some amorphous sense of what “should” be. The simple act of taking a few moments to focus on gratitude for what I do have, what is real, helps me regain perspective and remember just how damn lucky I am. 

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