This experiment in gratitude has actually, legitimately changed my life. And by my life, I mean my perspective, which is 90% of my life. The other 10% is mostly coffee and Spotify (shout out to Paloma Faith)
I learned to stop and be still. That sucked at first, so I threw a tantrum. I'm not making that up. I laid on the floor and everything. I was just covered in dog hair and I had a weird mark on my face when I got up.
I've relearned something I used to be very good at: to look around. My complaints have grown smaller, my gratitude has grown exponentially (well geez, you'd hope so after all my type-type-typing and gab-gab-gabbing about gratitude), and my perspective and hope have grown as well. I am more aware than ever of the remarkable people I'm fortunate enough to have in my life. I legitimately love this city that I live in. I drive down the street and look around at the view and I smile, a big smile that starts from the inside and unfurls like a flag til it's waving around like an embarrassing, goofy, really bad dancer. It's like the Elaine dance. Yeah, go ahead, picture it.
Okay that's enough.
Bottom line, I've found that joy is available to the new girl with no job, in a new city with very few friends available. I've begun to value people in my life, because I chose to think about them differently. In some cases it just meant that I chose to think about them, period. I've realized how much I have. I've also interacted with some of you, readers and friends, who have, in the process of doing this exercise in gratitude with me, realized how much you have to be thankful for. I've reconnected with people I'd long since lost touch with, and we reconnected on the notion of gratitude. That's beautiful.
The complicated line for me, here, is the distinction between the fair skinned, plump, glowing siblings, Contentment and Gratitude. They have their boring, chubby, abstinent older cousin, Complacency, and her rumored-to-be-slutty younger sister, Desire who is always barefoot and making messes she doesn't want to clean up. The first three, I'm still not totally sure how to tell them apart, but I'm working at it. I'm also remembering what I already knew: I am remembering that desire, itself, is something I'm grateful for; wanting is not necessarily the opposite of gratitude.
I want to move to the East Coast. I want to love. I want to be loved (duh). I want to take the LSAT. I want to go to law school. I want to travel. I want to be able to run again without injuring myself like a moron. I want to live in the same house as my piano. I want my own place. I want to have Natascha McElhone's hair. ("It's good to want things." My friend and professor Dave Marley used to say that. Usually it was in response to some absurd request for a deadline extension, or mercy, or a final that didn't involve an essay question on the three principle causes of the decline of Western Civilization... but you get the idea: "Its good to want things" = "fat chance")
Wanting is fun, like hungering and thirsting. You can't survive without food and water, but you could go the rest of your life satisfying mere necessary urges, without enjoying it. We could probably fit the earths population comfortably in Delaware if the means to populating weren't so thrilling. But back to food. What if we didn't have taste buds? I'm so glad we do. Having desires, and then enjoying (or sometimes not getting) the satisfaction of our desires, that makes living so much more... like living.
And then there's hoping. Hope is tricky.
Here is what I think about hope. I think hope is simply about recognizing goodness, right where it stands. I believe in God. I believe that God is good. That gives me hope. Hope isn't based on current circumstance; that's the beauty of it. Hope is based on what our circumstances are not yet. I believe that with all the goodness my own gratitude has unveiled all around me, there is much goodness that has been untapped.
Gratitude is a muscle. So is hope. The person who wrote the words above on a wall somewhere during the Nazi occupation... she may have survived the Holocaust, or she may have died. What if she died? Does that make her words any less true? What if she lived? Is God more real because she survived? Did the sun cease to exist because she no longer felt its warmth? Hope is the muscle of our spirit.
Again, I say hope is a muscle. If the picture below sickens you, and makes you want to retch, or leaves you desperately sad, or overwhelmed... there is hope. The opposite of hope is despair and indifference. So long as we are moved, there is hope for us. Today is April 9th, the day Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged for conspiring to kill Adolf Hitler. He was a man who made a move. He was the body of Christ; the hand, the foot, the fist.
So I'll be real with you- I get sick of hearing talk of the body of Christ. Cliche, yadda yadda yadda. But you know why? It's because I always HEAR ABOUT IT. I don't SEE ABOUT IT. Its just like listening to a dance, or eating a sculpture. "Yeah, you know, I'm really glad you- appreciate that statue so much, but you're really gonna wanna sit down for this..." Yikes.
If the church is the body of Christ, we need muscles or nothing is going to get DONE. And this is NOT an argument for action based works-righteousness, please don't even make me go there.
But my point is that the body of Christ is the body for a reason. Not just the heart, not just the smile, not just the mouthpiece or the brain. I am more of a thinker than a mover just by nature, so I am not disparaging the brains and the mouthpieces, without you in the Church there is just a big dumb well meaning animal lumbering around with bad coordination and embarrassing "theology."
We are the body because bodies reach other bodies; bodies do the holding, the catching, the carrying, the guarding, the warding off, the tending to, the healing, the visiting, the enacting of the love that we think on so often; and the basis for this able bodied ability is nothing other than the Love and the Graciousness of God. Gratia plena. Which we can't tap into without gratitude.
The justification for my gratitude is this: you cannot exaggerate the goodness of God. I have many things to be grateful for; but I know first that I have a good One who I am thanking for the things, people, notions, places that I am so grateful to have, to know, to understand, to see.
Things may be thought of, discussed, extrapolated, hyped, shamed, but people who have gratitude are those who hope, because they have tapped into the Ultimate Goodness of God. If I was relying on my own goodness, which is finite, I would give up because I know my own limits. Gratitude makes for cheerful, joyful, strong-willed beings with the will and the determination to walk out the things that we think on; the Philippians 4:8 passage springs to mind:
"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things."
So we think on these things. For what purpose? To sit in a holy huddle (I know, I said it, lame) and wait for the Apocalypse? No, we think on these things, because they ennoble and they enable. They remind us that we are to hope. Hope is the ammunition of courage. Hope, like gratitude, is an exercise. It is something we are free to choose to ignore. And just as you can choose what you worship (as I mentioned in my blog on desire, 15.1), it's your business what you hope in (Notre Dame). And it's scary to hope, just as it's scary to want. Hope kind of reminds me of Lenny from Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. Boy, he sure is dumb. But he is really, really strong. You also can't help but like him, even though you want to occasionally knock him unconscious. But you don't want to kill the guy, even though his intense energy is sometimes a little overwhelming and deadly.
Jeff Goldblum could just as easily been talking about hope in Jurassic Park when he spoke of the tenacity of life itself:
"If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us it's that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, uh... well, there it is.... I'm simply saying that life, uh... finds a way."
Well, there you have it. Anyone who ever did anything worth doing didn't do it because they were guaranteed to succeed. Who has guarantee? Well, maybe the kid who is a legacy to Harvard and was guaranteed admission regardless of his grades. But no one went to see the movie about the blonde Michael Bolton wannabe from the Harvard Bar in Good Will Hunting. People want excuses to hope, because it's just how we're built. Some of us are more emaciated than others, but that isn't wisdom, it's just giving up.
So while you're choosing whether to hope, or to despair, just know that hopers are in good company. That's where the good stuff is. I'm grateful for people who hope out loud, because they encourage others. I'm reminded of Marianne Williamson's argument for confidence (confidence, incidentally, just means "with faith." Chew on that) and she says it better than I can, so I'll finish with her words on what is, essentially, hope. This is the quote I placed on my door during the year I was an RA in college, when I had the privilege of working with some of the most amazing young women I've ever met. I wanted them all to remember this, as I wish for you, and for myself: