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The burden of being grateful

In the hardest times of our lives it seems we are reminded to be grateful.

Grateful that it isn’t worse.

Thankful you still have your health or your loved ones besides you. That the cut wasn’t deeper, the hit harder, the sickness more violent, the call closer.

That in the end, we should be grateful that they’re still here with us.

Or be thankful that they’re in a better place, even if you’re not sure you believe in that place anymore.

And in between those harrowing moments, those close calls, held breaths, long hospital stays, prayers sent up, phone calls made during tragic or near tragic reminders of this very frail life we lead, we do the regular things that humans do.

We cook rice on the stove and burn the chicken on the grill. We talk too long on the phone about what we think of someone. We’re late to appointments because the dog got out again. We fight about money in front of the babies, throw our hands in the air in disgust, walk out and slam doors. On good days, we laugh about the rearview mirror she broke on her way out of the garage, because isn’t it just like her to cut it so close, that woman!

On bad days, we wonder what the hell she was thinking. And what we’re doing wrong.

We take it all for granted, because we can’t live in that space of our own vulnerability, the space where we sit, understanding full well that we don’t have control in this life.

It’s too raw and exhausting to be so aware of our own mortality, even if being aware means being equal parts grateful and terrified.

My 2-year old daughter looks up at the night sky, searching for the moon among the stars and exclaims, “The moon, Mommy, it’s beautiful! The stars, Mommy. Look at the stars!”

And when the night turns to day, bringing with it the sun, she takes equal notice of its magnificence. “The sun, the sun!” she declares before looking at me and asking after the moon. “Where the moon, Mommy? Where the moon go?”

That child doesn’t yet know darkness the way grownups come to know darkness, and each day the world gives her the bright shining light of the sun. But in all its glory and promise, she won’t forget about her moon.

It will be few more years before the child has the vast expanse of the universe explained to her, a few years before she starts to learn that that moon doesn’t shine for her exclusively.

A few more years before it all starts to become as confusing as it is wondrous.

But right now she’s little, even though she doesn’t know it. And it doesn’t matter. The size of this universe might just as well be as far as her arms can reach for all it matters to her.

Because to her, what she can see of the sky is enough.

And to me, right now, those outstretched arms are enough to keep me equal parts grateful and terrified.

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