Thursday, November 19, 2015

Living With Gratitude

Lying in bed last night, listening to a steady rain pounding on our tile roof, I felt a wave of gratitude for shelter and warmth, something I never take for granted.

This is the time of year when we give thanks -- for family and friends and a wonderful holiday meal.

But, whatever our circumstances, there is so much else that can inspire gratitude.

What makes you grateful? What makes you feel blessed?

I am grateful for advancing age, even as I complain about everyday creaks and pains, even though my gait is slower and a bit unsteady, I am grateful for having lived longer already than my parents, who both died in their mid-sixties. I am glad to be old rather than young in an era that seems less kind, less socially mobile, than when I was growing up.

While the 1950's and 1960's were far from perfect, especially for people of color and women, there seemed to be more hope. We were convinced that if we worked hard, got an education and skills, we could get a good job with benefits and maybe a pension. Companies tended to keep their promises back then. We didn't hear much if anything about extended unpaid internships and legions of contract employees with no benefits and no job security. We could put ourselves through college, even a private college, with a good financial aid package and a willingness to work campus and summer jobs.

That is impossible for young people today who are emerging from college with crippling student loans and, in too many cases, lean prospects for steady work. My heart goes out to them as I think with gratitude of my own college and work experiences. Getting through school with parents unable to help me financially wasn't easy, but it was possible.

I am grateful for friends of all types and descriptions -- for those of many years like Mary Breiner, Tim Schellhardt, Jeanne Yagi and Pat Hill who feel like family to me and newer ones I'm just getting to know, for friends nearby and those at a distance, including some wonderful blogging friends I've never met face-to-face but treasure nonetheless. I feel blessed by all the friends in my life, rejoicing in the warm connection.

I am grateful for family: for my loving husband Bob Stover, by my side for 40 years now, in good times and bad, in closeness and in distance, in challenge and in growth; for my two beloved, inimitable siblings Mike and Tai and their families, my wonderful cousins. How blessed we are to have shared memories, quiet understanding and enduring love.

I am grateful for the pain and challenges of the past. I've learned so much from the love relationships that didn't work out, from some jobs that were so trying, I fought tears to and from work, from the disappointments that were inevitable -- the articles or books that didn't sell, the friendships that didn't last, the dreams that never came true. I'm convinced that I learned more, grew more, from these disappointments and setbacks than I ever did from success. I tended to accept successes -- especially early in my life -- as simply my due. The times of pain and disappointment caused me to look within, to rally resources I didn't realize I had, to find new paths and new ways of being.

I am grateful for daily companionship of pets -- from Hughey, a big white, gentle duck and my most dearly loved childhood pet, to little Ollie, my three-legged black kitten. I feel blessed by the memories of animal companions no longer with me -- cats who made such a difference in my life with Bob: our first cat Freddie, the miraculous duo Gus and Timmy, the latter of whom, with a later cat Marina, became a therapy cat and the subject of my book "Purr Therapy: What Timmy and Marina Taught Me About Life, Love and Loss." Those cats are all gone now -- Gus left us just a year ago. Each loss is unique, each cat irreplaceable. And our current four -- Maggie, Sweet Pea, Hamish and Ollie -- brighten our days with purring, cuddling, kisses and eccentricities that make us smile.

I am grateful for the blessings of my life -- a great education, having several professions I love, and a reasonable level of success. I'm not exactly famous and definitely not rich. But I feel very fortunate to have worked and still work doing what I truly enjoy. I don't take that for granted for one minute. I've had enough day jobs to know the difference between a job and a calling.

I am grateful for the culture in which I came of age: middle class, then with our family struggling financially after my father lost his job and could never get another, in an affluent community and learning to live with being different; Catholic schools in elementary and high school, complete with stodgy uniforms and strict nuns. In elementary school, our class size hovered around 60, always presided over by a nun just off the boat from Ireland, with a stout ruler and a talent for sarcasm that made any physical punishment pale in comparison. No one seemed to worry about tarnishing our self-esteem. But there were some nuns -- like Sister Rita and Sister Ramona -- who cared deeply and who made a tremendous difference in my life -- and the lives of many others. They were strict. They expected a lot. They let us know that the world didn't revolve around us. But they gave so much love and encouragement as well. They taught us to work hard, to show up, to honor our promises. And I have been grateful at many points in my life for such early expectations.

I am grateful to have lived long enough to see the technological revolution and to enjoy everything from personal computers to virtual reality, tablets and smart phones, blogging and podcasting. I think sadly how much fun and how much opportunity my parents missed by dying in 1980 or even that Aunt Molly, who died in 2004, never lived to see and experience.

I am grateful just to be...grateful for each dawning day. I've always greeted a new day with gratitude -- probably since being terrorized by the childhood prayer "Now I lay me down to sleep" with its provision for "if I should die before I wake.." But this gratitude has a keener edge, a greater depth of knowing these days.

Only a few weeks ago, my husband Bob and I were talking with our friends Joe Shea and Marsha Morello in the supermarket parking lot, laughing, teasing, making plans to get together. Now sadly, so suddenly, Joe is gone and Marsha overwhelmed, devastated, by his unexpected death. It all started with a fall in his home, a broken hip, then a stroke as he lay in the hospital. And we are left longing to help her to heal and missing him so much.

I recently spoke on the phone with Ruth Woodling, my only surviving college roommate who is an attorney in Atlanta and just had a festive birthday. The other three -- Cheryl Rennix, Lorraine Scace and Lorie Caldwell -- died many years ago in youthful midlife. Speaking with Ruth and sharing our experiences reminded me how just much the other three, all wonderful, amazing women, have missed.

And there are other friends whose health is failing, who are nearing the end of life...and, even as we watch and hope for better days and more time for them, we're increasingly aware of the fragility of all our lives.

So each day that I wake up healthy, with energy and with hope, or, someday, a day when I simply wake up, is a day to give thanks.


  1. What an uplifting post... We ALL do have so many things to be grateful for---and this is a great month to think about and share these special times/moments/thoughts....

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Beautiful post and something I so needed to be reminded of today. It's been rough around here but I wake up in the morning and go to bed at night with a grateful heart. Thank you.

  3. This is an inspirational post. It can be easy to appreciate the good things in our lives, not so easy with vicissitude and trial. But it all shapes who we are. Very nice.

  4. Kathy...what a wonderful tribute to gratitude! Inspiring...really...thank you! May you have a wonderful, fulfilling Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends...God bless you and yours. ️XOXO Ann Hall Curtis '66

  5. Kathy...what a wonderful tribute to gratitude! Inspiring...really...thank you! May you have a wonderful, fulfilling Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends...God bless you and yours. ️XOXO Ann Hall Curtis '66

  6. We often find it easy to complain, so it's important to stop and be grateful. Thanks for doing that, and encouraging us to do the same. I am grateful for B; for my health; for my two kids; for my middle class lifestyle. For food in my belly, a roof over my head, and the hope of looking forward to another 20+ years of a happy retirement. I am grateful that there is peace close to home, and that the troubles of the world are far away. My wish is for other people in war-torn lands find the peace that we so enjoy.

  7. I agree with you on so many points. You have such a wonderful way of reminding us that given just a few minutes, we can come up with a list full of gratitude. I recently was grousing about the fact that my health was slipping till I watched the news and realized how many young lives are being taken in the name of hate. They would love to have had my years, aches and all.

  8. Kathy, this is such an eloquent and exquisitely stated story of a life well lived in grateful joy, acknowledging the lessons learned from the challenges along with the joys of the steadfast and present.

    I'm so sorry to hear of the loss of your friend Joe. Despite the fact that we all know that any loss -- one of long illness duration or a sudden one -- is devastating, the shock of it all adds to the pain and confusion. I am grateful that Marsha has such a strong friend as you to help see her through this loss.

    As for me, one of the things you know I am most grateful for is the wide world of friendships built because of this thing called blogging. You are high on that list!

  9. Gratitude has been my guide word this year. When I practice being grateful my life is happier. I think it's a chicken or egg situation...not sure which one creates the other, but it's working for me and I am grateful!

  10. This was the best Thanksgiving piece I have read. It's a great reminder of the value of things that it is more difficult to be thankful for. Thank you!

  11. Dear Kathy, like so many of those who left comments, I think your posting was the best Thanksgiving prayer I've ever read. One by one you placed before us all that we have to be grateful for. Forgetting is so easy as we go about the business of living. You remind us to hold on to the lessons of the past and to be grateful for them and to embrace the day and be grateful for it, and to look to the future knowing that it, too, will bring us gifts for which we can give thanks. You know, Kathy, I'd suggest you send this posting to a magazine or newspaper so that it would reach an even wider audience. It's a gift to all of us. Peace.

  12. Thank you for sharing your inspiring words about gratitude. I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  13. You have had an incredible life, and the best part is that you recognize that. You have used your experiences to help and enrich the lives of others. I hope you know that there are many out there feeling gratitude for YOU.

    Thanks for sharing this distillation of all for which you have gratitude.

  14. Much of what you mention here goes for me too, although my life is not blessed with long-term friends. For me that just never happened, probably because I don’t work at friendship hard enough.

    In addition to positive reasons for gratitude there is one which is negative: I won’t have to live through the destruction of our planet and I won’t have to experience at first hand the wars which are surely to come between rich and poor, East and West, North and South.

    Unless humanity learns to share there will be no future, which grieves me greatly. Being grateful for not having to witness it is cowardly, I know.