The early morning sun shone brightly on the faces of happy children as they skipped toward their last day of school. A small girl clutching a bright summer flower caught my eye. I watched her hold it out to an aging crossing guard who smiled at the generous gift and said “This is exactly what I need!” More school children ran past the local coffee shop which buzzed with people from all stages of life – young moms with babies, local workers on a mid-morning break, professionals en route to Boston and mature moms on a coffee run for their college-aged daughters.
Driving the short distance home from the coffee shop – to deliver an almond milk latte to my daughter and wake my teenage son – I thought about all the people whom I had seen this morning. The image of the little girl thanking the crossing guard had stuck in my mind. Her parents had done well – teaching her about gratitude at a young age – her life would be richer for it. I was also feeling grateful on this lovely summer day – to have witnessed a variety of authentic human emotion in the midst of small town America and come away with a sense of joy and contentment for the life which I have been given.
Like the small girl with the flower, I too was given the gift of gratitude at a young age. A spirit of gratitude has helped me to safely navigate the treacherous roads of life. As we all know, life does not follow the path that we seek or expect and we sometimes find ourselves in a new, unwelcome season. Life-altering events are usually the cause of the shift from one season to the next – loss of a loved one, retirement, financial changes, health issues, job changes, moves, aging and much more. But with gratitude as our guide, I believe that we can make an intentional effort to live well during the tougher seasons. I’ve watched others do it – like my mom – and seek to follow her great example of faith and courage.
The doctor sat down and looked me straight in the eye “There really is no cure for your back…it is all about managing the pain.” These words hit me like a punch in the face. As you can imagine, this was not the news I had been looking for. I had recently taken a medical leave after 10 years of professional work at a private girls school. The problem was that I was seeking to live a life that was no longer possible. I had entered a new season of life and had yet to embrace it’s benefits and challenges.
Looking back one year ago, it is easy to see all the mistakes that I made. I had failed to give thanks for the many blessings in my life – my husband, children and extended family and friends. I also failed to be grateful for the gift of time in which to rest, research options for my back pain and spend extra time with my children. Unfortunately, I looked at this gift of time as a reminder that I was no longer able to work full time. “I’m not relevant” I thought. It took many months of struggle, prayer and hard work to realize that this new season of my life was good and worthy of living to its fullest. I slipped back a few times, wanting my old life back, but remembered that I had come too far. I’m truly grateful for the example of my mom who taught me that going backwards is not an option. Instead, she accepted her plight in every season and lived life to its fullest.
These days, I take time to smell the flowers and enjoy every moment with my family – especially extra time with my children. Years ago I would have missed that beautiful encounter between the young girl and the crossing guard. In this new season of life I have discovered that I have gifts I was not aware of – so I am trying to make use of them for the benefit of others. I have become a volunteer at a women’s prison and have been given the gift of attending weekly Mass with the women. God is surely working through my brokenness and allowing me to connect with others who are also feeling broken. I think we are all helping each other to feel needed and relevant. It’s funny how things work out when you accept your situation.
So in the end, it’s really about gratitude and acceptance – all of the time. If you find yourself in a new season of life, try to give thanks for all the blessings you’ve been given and allow yourself time to ease into your new role. Like me, I am sure that you’ll find new things to be happy about amidst the challenges which accompany the change. I’ll close with a quote which I recently discovered in Maine, while walking aimlessly along a picturesque ocean path at dusk with my beautiful sister-in-law Tania. “Make every day count, be everything you can be.”