Octo Observations – Gratitude Equals Attitude

“Gratitude and attitude are not challenges; they are choices.”
Robert Braathe: author, career coach. 

Exactly fourteen years ago today my life hung in a precarious balance. Because of an asymptomatic, randomly diagnosed carotid artery blockage, I had emergency major surgery. If  the operation had been postponed, I might have died or suffered a major stroke. My left carotid artery was 99% plugged. Wow. 

Not only do I owe my life to Life Line Screening, a mobile medical unit that discovered the problem, but to three wonderful people, whom I will forever call my “Guardian Angels.” As long as I draw breath I will be indebted to my dear friend Martha, who insisted I contact a mutual friend and heart surgeon who instantly recommended me to his associate, a  vascular surgeon. Martha and these two competent men saved my life….GRATITUDE in capital letters. Not a day passes that I don’t thank them and God for keeping me alive. 

However, to be truthful, it is easy to fuss and fume, (i.e. “Bitch and Moan”) during these tedious months of Covid-19 pandemic. But, bouncing me back from  the edge of despair is knowing if I had not been saved by my three Guardian Angels on August 9, 2006, I might be well long gone…deprived of  bonus years on earth with my beloved husband, children and grandchildren. 

So what “miracle” makes you grateful?  Have you suffered a life-threatening event? Each of us is lucky in one way or another. Each of us, if we stop to think, can articulate reasons to pop up out of the doldrums. And each of us can do ourselves a huge favor by keeping a “gratitude list.” Even if it is stored securely in our minds, it exists.

The other day our daughter-in-law Steph, a pediatric neuro psychologist, told me that she and her husband, our son Charley, and two daughters gather around their dinner table to eat supper and share three things that happened that day to make them grateful. She says, ‘We do not miss a night.” This ritual has been refreshing and positive for their two daughters: older one home from freshman year in college since March, and younger one a rising high-school sophomore. For each of us, normal lives have come to a screeching halt as Covid-19 restrictions have upended lives.

Besides helping each other survive and thrive throughout this pandemic, the sisters who are close say they have become each other’s best friends. Yes, they have techie devices to stay in touch with pals, but on a deeper level they turn to each other. A few days ago Livvie returned to college (her sister bid her a reluctant farewell)….she was excited to reunite with friends, to begin hybrid classes and experience her sophomore year. First semester will be completed by Thanksgiving when students are sent home until after New Year’s.  Kudos to all college administrators for working creatively on viable plans, some more rigid that others. 

With Covid-19 restrictions relentlessly impacting all older folks living in retirement facilities, we endeavor to keep our spirits high.  Honestly, some days are truly tough. So much sameness, and so much loneliness for so many. I ache for my widowed friends…and I ache for those whose families live so far away….ours included. One has to work hard to stay positive. For those who are afflicted with declining health, this isolation is especially difficult….as it is for caretakers. 

I live this role each day, as my dear husband tries valiantly to adjust and cope. We have done pretty well until this past week when our annual family gathering in the Blue Ridge mountains had to be cancelled. Traveling long distances is a no-no, and the fact that Virginia is now on the NO VISIT UNLESS YOU QUARANTINE UPON RETURN TO YOUR OWN STATE list, makes it impossible.

Several times last week John called me “Allison”….our older daughter  in Boston who hasn’t missed an August family gathering in twenty years. She was as disappointed as we were. I am surmising that her dad was wishing she were with us….and that is why he called me Allison. Actually, if you ask me, a lovely compliment!!

Anyway, back to GRATITUDE. One obvious solution to our avoiding “sorry for oneself” feelings is to do as Rabbi Steve Leder, author of More Beautiful Than Before: How Suffering Transforms Us, suggests: “Find the secret to happiness even during these difficult days, weeks and months.” (He wrote his wonderful little book before outbreak of  Covid-19.) He was referring to those dear souls battling cancer or any potentially terminal disease. Rabbi Leder says, “Find five things each day you are grateful to have in your life, and KEEP IT SIMPLE.” 

 For me, reading this wonderful book has helped me adopt a more positive outlook, especially when I feel lost or sad… Days of caretaking and watching one’s beloved spouse decline take a huge emotional toll. And anyone who is walking in these shoes can nod in agreement.

I loved the Rabbi’s message that when trying to offer solace to a grieving or struggling friend, do not say, “Let me know if I can do anything for you.” According to Steve Leder, that puts the onus on the victim, giving that  person who is hurting one more unnecessary task.  He says, “Don’t give the person who is suffering more homework.” Not helpful, although the intent is probably honorable and sincere.

A brief example: one day I saw a gal whom I have known for many years, but have not heard from in some time…. She tapped me on the shoulder and said, “If you want to talk, Joy, just call me.” Instead of being grateful, I was annoyed….now I know why. Because she, in a very unintentional way, was asking me to do one more thing when my plate is already full to the rim. Thanks to Rabbi Leder, I now understand, and can let go of that negative feeling.

So many people are suffering these days….and so many far -flung families are forcibly kept apart. 

NO one, but no one, was presented with a “road map for survival” when Covid-19 invaded our country. We can find many reasons to blame and blast whomever is in charge…whether on a local or national political level. But the facts are irrefutable: we MUST each take responsibility to do all we can to help eradicate the germs. Wearing masks in public, keeping hands washed or sanitized, avoiding crowds: simply essential.

If you ever read Viktor Frankl’s profound depiction of life as a Holocaust prisoner in heinous concentration camps, you are familiar with his courage and wisdom. I first read Man’s Search for Meaning age thirty….and since then I have reread it nearly each decade. Now, a new Frankl book of public lectures presented in Vienna, his home  city, called Yes to Life In Spite of Everything has been published in America. These lectures, relevant in today’s world, were delivered in 1946 but preserved throughout the decades.

Instead of migrating to England or America after his release from Buckenwald Death Camp, Dr. Frankl returned to Vienna, his native city where he wrote his famous book on Logotherapy. Thoughts/ideas/realities saved on mere scraps of paper, Frankl worked frantically for nine days to transpose his writings into one of the most meaningful books ever published. To clarify, Logotherapy is “founded on the belief that human nature is motivated by the search for a life purpose”….. “a pursuit of life’s meaning as the result of responding authentically and humanely to life’s challenges.”

 My interpretation could be described as one’s ability to perceive and articulate GRATITUDE  for the simplest of blessings available to us……whether a glorious sunrise or sunset, or the song of a little bird fluttering through the air……or the sight of a loved one’s sweet face or sound of his or her voice on the phone.

Perhaps the best we can offer each other these days is genuine kindness which inspires gratitude through acts of simple thoughtfulness. And when we are separated or kept to ourselves, let’s try to think positively about a moment or a memory that evokes fond thoughts.

Maybe we older folks can touch the hearts of our younger generations with renewed understanding and empathy as they navigate their own struggles. Maybe we can take all the experiences, happy and sad of our long lives, and lean on them when we are feeling lonely or afraid. Maybe we can make a wee difference that touches another heart. For it is in giving that we receive, and it is in feeling thankful that we recognize every precious moment of life.

If my three Guardian Angels had not intervened, and my carotid had not been repaired, I would have missed so very, very much…..and because I am still here, I am delighted to be alive and ever so grateful for the glorious gift of life!

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” Aesop

Top photo: Bigstock

Joy Nevin is the author of Joy of Retirement – Live, Love, and Learn. Click to buy on Amazon.