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tulips

When the kids were little, and we wanted to teach them good manners, we would prompt them with, “What’s the magic word?” before giving them whatever their latest desire happened to be.  They would respond with the “P” word, we would reward them by granting their request, and then prompt again with, “And now what do you say?”

“Thank you.”

This was an easier habit to teach to my son initially, who acquired language largely through rote repetition as a little guy. For him, “more-please” was learned as one word, and “thank you” was simply the routine that completed any transaction of this nature.  I have always been grateful for his polite manners in this regard.  Even when he had a rough day in pre-school, his teachers would note what good manners he had. My daughter required a bit more reminding to get into the habit – sometimes she still does — but I don’t worry about this at all, because I am fairly certain that she understands the deep meaning of the words, “thank you,” and the feeling that accompanies those words when you understand them.

The children each seem to approach gratitude in their own way.  For him, it is often a practice – a “fake it ‘til you make it,” so to speak – where the feeling follows, but not all the time.  She, on the other hand, is more likely to express it when she notices she is feeling it, which she notices more often than not, thankfully.  I think gratitude has to exist in both places – you have to practice it, so that when you find yourself in the midst of something awful, you are well trained in the habit of seeking out a hidden gift – you have the tools to “fake it ‘til you make it.”  And when you do feel it, you should practice identifying and expressing it, so that it continues to bloom and grow in all aspects of your life.

After my surgery, I went through a period of pretty deep depression.  My doctor told me this was because I had been diagnosed with the “C” word, which is depressing for most people in general.  I was fairly certain, however, (and later confirmed) that there was a physical component to my situation; that it wasn’t just psychological (not that this wasn’t enough reason to seek help).  Regardless of its cause, however, I was determined to pull myself out of the depths of darkness.  The first step I took toward this end was to start keeping a gratitude journal.

Every night, I would force myself to list five things for which I was grateful during the course of the day, and then I would rate the day from 1 to 10, with 1 being “totally in the crapper” and 10 being “ecstatic and filled with wonder and joy.”  After a few months of this, I realized a few things.  First, I confirmed that my most depressive episodes were very much aligned to the latter half of my menstrual cycle, confirming for me that there was indeed a physical component to be addressed.  But the other thing that I learned was that on the days that came closest to approaching a “10,” my gratitude list was comprised of incredibly simple things like “having enough creamer for my coffee this morning,” or “a warm fire on a cold day,” or simply “family.”  The best days were not necessarily colored by extraordinary experiences or huge gestures made by others – they were good days because I made the choice to find good in the mundane everyday things that surround me all the time.  I think gratitude may be the key to seeing the world as a magical place that is filled with miracles at every turn.  (For the record, balanced hormones are also incredibly helpful in this regard).

I am a big fan of the Einstein quote, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”  For those who want to see everything as a miracle, I think the magic words are simply, “thank you.”  Because when we choose to be thankful for what is, we aren’t just accepting life with indifference, or throwing up a white flag to surrender to our lot.  We are instead proactively seeking hidden gems in the darkest caves. With practice, we can find those treasures more and more often and with more ease, even on our darkest days.  The practice makes us actually thankful for the dark days, because we are trained in finding the gifts they have hidden for us.  This simple discovery has fundamentally changed me.

There was a time, not so long ago, that my husband would bring me red roses every year on our anniversary and on Valentine’s Day.  Sounds lovely, right?  And yet, there were years when the thought that went through my head was not, “Thank you,” but instead, “Doesn’t he know that I like tulips?”

Ooh…sometimes I want to slap that girl.

Well, not really.  I forgive her, and I am actually thankful for her.  It is because of her that I am speaking to you today ;).

What I really want to do is take her face gently in my hands, look into her eyes – deeply into the windows of her soul – and ask her to please just dig a little deeper.  Don’t just look at the color or variety of the flower in front of you.  Look beyond the flower to its origin.  The idea of this gift was born in the love of your husband’s heart.  It is his way of expressing romance and love and feelings that he has just for you.  THAT is what is in front of you.  A rose is NOT just a rose – THAT rose is filled with wonder and joy, but you have to open your eyes to see it.  The funny thing is that practicing gratitude has also made me feel freer to be open and honest with my feelings, and so I have since shared with my husband that tulips are actually my favorite.  And so now he brings me tulips.  But I think I might love dandelions just as much, because the practice of gratitude is not about the physical things around us as much as learning to witness the love that brought them here in the first place.

The funny thing about gratitude is that when I practice it regularly, I can feel surrounded by love even when I am all by myself.  And that is magic.  However, the magic is greater when I witness those moments simultaneously and in the same space as another human being.  With a single shared glance, over the course of a conversation, while playing music, while holding hands – the details of the transaction of gratitude are not as important as the fact that the experience is shared.  When that happens — wow —  that’s the stuff of fireworks.  That is when I feel most grateful that I get to experience all of the amazing, connecting varieties of love that this beautiful world has to offer, whether it is the mother’s love of a child, the bonding with my best girlfriend over a glass of wine, or a sweeping romantic love story that is set in the woods on a hike, or on the shore of a beach, or on my couch watching Mad Men — each variety of love has its sacred space in my heart, unique and special thanks to the person who made it possible to grow beyond just me.  Gratitude in a moment of solitude is magic.  Gratitude witnessed and shared in the presence of another … that’s when my cup runneth over.

My sincere gratitude to you for reading.

May you say the magic words and find miracles around every corner today.