The flip side of complaint is thankfulness.
My friend Cindy Cieplik started a gratitude circle. It’s an e-mail device and a person is supposed to identify five things for which one is thankful that day, and send an e-mail to the group. It’s a good idea; but somehow I botched the creation of the e-mail group. I’m not a particularly patient person, so I haven’t yet spent the time to find the last email sent by someone in the group, make a iist of the participants, create the group, and send out another email.
But I’m grateful to Cindy for inviting me: She’s prompted me to examine how I want to spend the second six months of My Year Without Complaining.
I’d like to learn to show gratitude to everyone for meeting my needs.
The stranger at Coffee Girls, who smiled at me the other day when I had a particular need for comfort of which they could not possibly have known, unless the pain showed on my face.
The prospective juror last` Monday at the courthouse who opened the door when the “press here for accessible access” button failed.
The newspaper carrier who walks my paper to the stoop every day and carefully sets it where I can reach it.
My family members and friends who have consistently humored me when I insisted on doing everything myself even though they could see that I struggled. The same folks for gently, cheerfully, and silently taking over, after I exhausted myself trying to be independent.
Someone recently asked me about my experiences as a child “with a walking problem”. The inquirer has a disabled daughter who has been bullied, harassed for being different. I told the troubled parent that other children ridiculed me, and that people still do. I cautioned that she needed to help her daughter understand that she will always encounter such ugliness.
But I said more: I told her that her daughter would also encounter goodness, people who wanted to help even if they didn’t know how much help to offer or when to offer assistance. I told the mother that her daughter should earn that the taunts of others say nothing about her and everything about those who jeer. I encouraged her to help the child build a sense of self. She should accept herself, with all of her strengths but also with her limitations. She should learn to forgive those who bully her, but also to be grateful for those who wish to help her.
Articulating this advice crystallized a new feeling for me. For the first time, I found myself capable of being grateful for people who offer to help me, rather than resenting them for implying that I am incapable. The realization that I’ve been unable to feel gratitude for those who try to anticipate and meet needs arising from my physical limitations stunned me. I think I understand the evolution of my reaction. I think that I wanted so much to be “normal”, to evade the bullying and stares of others, to have what my disability prevents me from enjoying, that I wrapped myself in a stubborn cloak of pretended normalcy and in so doing, missed many opportunities to understand the place of love from which others offered help.
So: To Cindy and the Gratitude Circle:
I am grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow. I’m thinking about the times when I must have snapped at people for offering to assist me. I am wondering if there’s a 12-step program for addiction to ungratefulness, one step of which is making amends. I’ve got a long list of people to whom those amends will be directed. I hope they can forgive me.