Prescription for Gratitude

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A sleepy hush seemed to fall over the apartment as I sat down to write this post. The tea in my cup was warm, soothing. Both of my fur babies were curled up together on the end of the couch. Another weekend had come to a close and although I was tired, although I was still in a tremendous amount of pain, I couldn’t help but feel grateful.

Grateful for a weekend spent celebrating birthdays with loved ones.

Grateful for the sights and sounds of beautiful Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Grateful that I have this life at all.

This kind of gratitude—in the face of physical pain—is not something that comes easily to me. I struggle with it, every hour of every day, but it’s something that I feel compelled to write about. To share. To maybe shore up my resolve in the pursuit of it.

I couldn’t tell you when or why I first made the decision to actively cultivate gratitude. Its roots have been forgotten, as lost as that first gratitude journal, but the practice itself has survived. Every night before I turn out the bedside lamp, I write down three things that I am grateful for. The things I list could be the names of family members or friends. Other days, I might record happy events that occurred during the day. Some days, I write down what I eat because, some days, that’s all I can find to be grateful for.

The magic of a gratitude journal is not what you write down, but that you write something down at all. Sometimes it’s the really, really minute things that soften your heart and help you realize just how fortunate you are.

With this in mind—and the fact that constant physical pain is accompanied by the temptation to be a Negative Nelly—I decided to turn my mind even more toward gratitude. Keeping a gratitude journal at night has, on many occasions, shifted my perspective.

So what would happen, I wondered, if I started my day by listing three things that I’m grateful for?

Or, if I paused in the middle of the day to recall three additional blessings, would that have an effect on me?

And, if I faithfully turned to my gratitude journal each night to record three more things, would I finally be able to both see and believe that my blessings outweigh the pain in my back and my legs?

The experiment is young still, Dear Readers, but I am finding that that this self-prescribed regimen of gratitude three times a day has given me something to smile about. It’s something I look forward to. And, it reminds me, that even amid physical discomfort, there is always something to be grateful for.

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The Book of Hopes and Dreams

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As a writer, I have many journals. They’re stashed in desk drawers, closets, and book bags. There are two currently resting on my bedside table. Another sits on the couch, patiently waiting for me to pick it back up. Some of these journals are for recording dreams and story ideas. Others serve as a place to list all of the people, events and places that have inspired gratitude. And, then, there’s the green and white journal that I have had since July of 2010.

This particular journal has seen some things. Its binding is creased. There are pages falling out of it. It has been shelved in a variety of places, too: a hospital room, at one of the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodges, my parents’ house, and, now, this apartment. This journal—its cover bearing the words, “Hopes & Dreams”, in permanent marker—has been my travel companion and my confidant.

When I believed in bucket lists, this was the journal that I turned to (and can I just say that #21. “Grow sunflowers and giant pumpkins” still sounds pretty good to me?).

It was a source of inspiration—a place where I recorded quotes that resonated with me, that gave me hope and strength.

It was my planner, featuring daily checklists (i.e. “Write. Something. Anything.”).

When fear cornered me, whispering of infection and complications with surgery sites, this journal heard my prayers:

Dear God, keep me together.

Please don’t let it [the surgery site] open up.

Keep me together, please.

 This journal is a time capsule, keeping my memories, my plans, my hopes together. It bears my words, my fingerprints, the pale rings of dried tears. Emotion permeates every page—including those that I filled last night.

You see, Dear Readers, this journal has become a New Year’s tradition of sorts. On the last day of each year, I take this journal from its hiding place and record those goals I hope to accomplish in the new year. I entrust this journal—this old friend—with all the beautiful moments that I dream of experiencing. Once that list is complied, the book is closed, opened only periodically when I am in need of direction.

Do I cross everything off of these yearly lists? No. To be honest, I usually can’t remember half of the things I write down. I create the list anyways, though, because I believe that there is some magic in visualizing the life that you want to live. I am not the only one that feels that way, either. Although the inspiration for this practice has been lost (I read about it while in the haze of some pretty powerful medications and cannot remember the exact source), I owe the individual(s) behind it many, many thanks. Why? Just take a look at this:

From the very first list that I wrote in 2013: #24. Go to Canada at least once.

From the list written in 2014: #10. Attend the Leukemia & Lymphoma’s event, Light the Night.

From the list written in 2015: #22. Become comfortable driving in high-traffic situations.

From the list written in 2016: #15. Build a social media platform – create a blog and post once a week.

It should be noted that I do not approach these lists with a plan to accomplish the items on them. Yet, when I periodically reread them, there are always items to check off.

Did I go to Canada in 2013? Yes, because in that year I welcomed the incredible little girl that is my goddaughter and namesake. In 2014, the opportunity to attend Light the Night manifested and I walked with a crowd of survivors, caregivers and supporters, a white lantern raised and glowing above my head. Although you will never hear me say that I am comfortable driving in high-traffic situations, I did do some city-driving in 2015 and regained a smidgen of confidence.

And, what about that final item taken from 2016’s list? Well, that’s what this is, isn’t it? My weekly post, on the blog I never thought that I would have the courage to create.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe this journal—this book of hopes and dreams—is nothing more than paper and ink. It might not have any special powers; writing my goals across its pages may not help to manifest them. But, Dear Readers, even if all of that is true, it’s okay.

It’s okay because this journal has been my mirror—reflecting my journey, reflecting my fears and my hopes.

It’s okay because this journal  has become my map, showing me the path to a happy and healthy 2017.