A Time of Gratitude and Conflict

Friday the 13th of June, 2003 – 17 years ago – I was 54 years old and ready to become right-handed. I had lived with chemotherapy treatments and the knowledge that I would lose my dominant left hand for 3 months. After my diagnosis of soft-tissue sarcoma in March of that year, I had chosen life on a challenging path, for as long as that might be. I am grateful that it has lasted 17 years and counting. I am still surprised with things that appear to be two-handed on a regular basis. New situations bring new opportunities to learn to do things a new way, to ask for help or to gracefully decide not to do something. I am grateful for the reality and luxury of choice in my life.

Becoming a cancer survivor – one who is LIVING with, after and beyond a cancer diagnosis* – has brought me many gifts along with many challenges. I have been privileged to wake up each day for the last 17 years and live life, making the effort to be mindful, grateful and count my blessings. Don’t get me wrong, I am not always successful in that positive endeavor. I have mindless days too.

While I would love to say that I start each day looking out the window with gratitude, that would be far from the truth. However, those daily activities of eating, bathing, exercising and being in relationship with a pretty interesting array of those I call “family and friend” are not taken for granted. I am grateful and will try to do better in the future to acknowledge them mindfully/consciously. The major blessings of my last 17 years include: 4 wonderful grandchildren ages 6 – 16; memorable travel experiences too numerous to tell; the opportunity to share a meaningful message with those who will listen; and contributing my enthusiasm and engaging with a number of worthwhile organizations populated by some pretty, remarkable people. I am, indeed, grateful.

In addition to celebrating a significant personal anniversary, this emphasis on gratitude in the midst of all that is going on in my community, state, nation and world at this time is due to a book I have recently read – and highly recommend: Grateful: The Subversive Practice of Giving Thanks, by Diana Bass Butler. This book has challenged me to look at the way I experience and express gratitude. The framework presented in the book is: “Gratitude is for ‘me’ and ‘we’; it includes both emotions and ethics; and it has a deep structure—its truest shape is of a round table.” What action can I take to assure that all are welcome at that table?

Gratitude is personal – but it is also communal and political. How do we view the giving and receiving of gifts? Do we live with abundance or with scarcity? Do we “get what we deserve”? Do we “pay it back” or “pay it forward”? Do we live with a quid-pro-quo attitude or a pro bono attitude toward all that we are given and receive in life? These are essential questions to ponder – today more than ever. Can the Golden Rule – a form of which is present in virtually every spiritual tradition – guide us to focus on what is truly the common good, as well as the worth and dignity of all? Ms Bass Butler makes the point that “gratitude does not “fix” anything…” She goes on to say, “Telling victims to be grateful for trauma, violence, or abuse only wounds those who have suffered and empowers perpetrators.” We all need to pay attention to our thoughts and actions. To quote Emmanuel Acho, “We all need to engage with open hearts, ready to listen, ready to learn and ready to do.” These are indeed troubling times.

Stay Healthy. Become educated about and open to the reality of the racism that exists in human life – yours and mine.

*”Survivor: One who remains alive and continues to function during and after overcoming a serious hardship or life-threatening disease. In cancer, a person is considered to be a survivor from the time of diagnosis until the end of life.”
~NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms …www.cancer.gov