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The Gift of Gratitude – Appreciating What IS

The Gift of Gratitude – Appreciating What IS

photo of woman reading by lake

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more.”

 – Melody Beattie

I thought I’d share with you a recent moment when I experienced a rather profound sense of gratitude.

I was back in my hometown of Calgary earlier this fall and had wonderful visits with dozens of people…friends, family, colleagues and oodles of kids. As fun as it was to catch up with everyone, it was also tiring – especially for someone now used to significant amounts of solitude 🙂

My 10-day visit to Calgary ended on Monday September 29th – the 14th anniversary of John’s death. I attended a memorial service for John in the chapel at the Calgary Police Headquarters, went for lunch with John’s family then drove to the airport, hopped on a plane and flew back to my own life in Sidney.

It was only when I was back home, inside my little bungalow, that I cried for the first time that day – but they weren’t tears of sadness. They were tears of gratitude for the incredible life I have somehow managed to wrangle, particularly the freedom to live where I want to live and do the work I want to do and still return to Calgary on occasion.

The fact that it is the financial ramifications of John’s death that has enabled me to have this life does not go unnoticed – or unappreciated.

“Pause for a moment and give thanks. Let your heart awaken to the transforming power of gratefulness.”

 – Sarah Ban Breathnach,
Simple Abundance; A Daybook of Comfort and Joy

However, in my experience and observation, gratitude for what IS – versus dwelling on what we lack but want – is not necessarily our default attitude. Rather, it seems to be the human condition to want more instead of being grateful for what we already have.

I remember vividly the day after John died, I was standing at our dining room window in Calgary, looking out at our Mountain Ash tree and I actually noticed how the yellow leaves and red berries contrasted so beautifully against the bright blue sky. Then one of my brothers came up and stood beside me.

“I’m thankful it’s a nice day today,” I heard myself say.

He handed me a cup of coffee and smiled. “You’re going to be okay, aren’t you?”

I nodded and said, “Yup…someday.”

I was right. My ultimate destination was happiness…thankfully, I had no clue of how emotionally and psychologically difficult the journey would be to get there, how much work would be involved – nor how long it would take.

But this is a good thing…for hobbits would never leave home if they had any inkling of the dragons they may have to face.

Hobbit door

I share the story of standing at the dining room window the day after John died – and somehow being able to see the beauty in nature and recognizing the small but significant gift of a sunny day when another gloomy one would’ve probably done me in – because I suspect there is an important lesson there about the transforming power of gratitude.

Unfortunately, it took me a heck of a long time to learn it…and I still need reminders more often than I care to admit.

Because the truth is, after I walked away from that dining room window, I began to wonder how I could notice beauty in the middle of such horrific sadness? My husband had just died…what kind of flake notices the beauty in a tree?

A flake who instinctively knew she better figure out – fast – how to find something good in an incredibly bad situation, that’s who. But that’s in hindsight, of course.

What I didn’t realize then was that being able to appreciate beauty during the midst of an immense loss was not only a gift, it was also the very key to getting out of the hell known as grief, sooner rather than later. Why?

Because what we choose to focus on, expands.

“As you focus on the abundance rather than on the lack in your life, you will be designing a wonderful new blueprint for the future.”

– Sarah Ban Breathnach,
Simple Abundance; A Daybook of Comfort and Joy

On my recent trip back to Calgary, John’s 7-year-old nephew, Nicholas, asked me, out of the blue, “Auntie Pope, do you get lonely living all alone?”

Wow…out of the mouth of babes!

I thought about it a moment. “No,” I said, “I don’t. I actually love living alone.”

His candid question was a good one. It sure got me thinking. Am I flake for being so damn happy – even though, if one were to look at my situation objectively, I really AM alone? From a child’s perspective, what I don’t have – a mate, a child, a Mom, or any pets – is perhaps more prominent than what I do have…which is an awful lot.

Maybe my life looks a little like a bad country song…my husband died then my dog died then my Mom died then my other dog died and I still can’t get a date to save my life…

But maybe that’s because, deep down, I know a date – a special someone – couldn’t save my life…that was my job. And I dare say I did it.

Learning to be happy again on my own has been a very difficult life lesson – but it was obviously one I needed to learn. Believe me, I would no more have chosen to be widowed at 32 and then stay single for 14 years, than fly to the moon. But that is the nature of a hobbit…they do not tend to willingly leave their hobbit hole to face non-fun adventures with unknown outcomes.

I know I won’t always live alone. But I’m thankful for the experience of having done so because one of the most important things I’ve learned over the past 14 years is an understanding of the conditions I need in order to work effectively from home: my own space and lots of time on my own.

And since there’s nothing more this hobbit loves to do than tell tales of slaying dragons – such as the myth that being alone means being lonely – I am very grateful for the opportunity to do just that.

Maryanne Pope is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. She is the playwright of Saviour, the author of A Widow’s Awakening and the upcoming book, Barrier Removed; A Tough Love Guide to Achieving Your Dreams. If you would like to receive her weekly blog, please sign up here.



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2 thoughts on “The Gift of Gratitude – Appreciating What IS”

  1. This delightful comment just came in via e-mail:

    I loved your post today for two reasons:

    1)It reminds me of why you are one of my favourite people; you are strong, wise, deep, vulnerable and vivacious!

    2)I need to keep hearing that gratitude message over and over and over and over. I seem to require hourly reminders to stop the fear,
    worry and negativity and see the abundance instead!
    SH, Calgary, AB

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