Sunday, May 24, 2009

Shameless Gratitude

This was originally going to be a letter in response to an email I recently received, but I think it has a home in my collection of inspirational, take-control-of-your-life blogs... It was written Oct. 2, 2008

The tone of wonder and amazement attached to occasional commentary on my single and divorced status is both flattering and almost embarrassing. To every person who has brought pink to my cheeks and a heightened sense of value from statements like: "I can see why you were taken for so long" or "What kind of idiot would leave you or let you leave?" or "How can you possibly still be single??"- I profusely thank. I cherish those comments and think of them more often then I should!

But the truth is, I- like everyone else- am a flawed person. I have my strengths and weaknesses. I have my moments of both sides of the spectrum. I'm on a path to self-awareness, self-improvement and enlightenment. Hopefully my successes help to outweigh my failures. And I DO have failures. Loads of 'em!

In the last ten years I have had many wonderful and terrible experiences that have helped me alter the focus of my life and my perspective on things.

I am convinced that perspective is one of THE most important things a person can have and alter to improve their life and the lives of those around them.

Entire books could- and should- be written on the subject, along with mandatory high school classes, GE required college courses and optional self-improvement seminars. You ARE directly affected by every aspect of your perspective and THAT in turn, alters and moves the direction of your life.

While it may seem like an odd thing to say, I am grateful to my ex. I do not regret the nine years we were married. I do have regrets of things that happened during that time- mostly with time and energies wasted and resources poorly used and relationships I did not value enough- but I do not regret having spent nine years married to him- fighting with him, arguing with him, compromising with him and learning from him. I think the act of trying to force our very different perspectives and upbringings together caused a sandpaper friction that help whittle away some of my rougher edges.

I am convinced that if I'd been married to a more accommodating guy, one who wouldn't have forced me to do things on my own, figure out frustrating situations by myself and deal with the messy business of life in a less starkly insecure way- I would have been too lazy or complacent to change and grow which has helped me become the person I am today.

As it is, the tragedies and trials, frustrations and losses I've experienced have allowed me to gain perspective and realize I AM stronger and more capable than I thought. I HAVE more talents and abilities than I ever would have imagined. And I AM more adaptable then anyone who knew me growing up would have guessed.

But without having been faced by astounding troubles and terrifying situations, I never would have discovered that. I never would have flexed my "personal character" muscles and realized I had not even begun to tap into my own potential.

I have become grateful for my problems in life.

I know it's borderline crazy sounding, but sometimes when I get a headache or a stomach virus, after taking a swig of the fastest acting pain medication you can get over the counter and vowing to never leave the house again without hand sanitizer and a gasmask… I remind myself that I should be grateful for that mild reminder that the other 364 days of the year I have a healthy, strong body- and I'm not battling cancer or some degenerative disease or disorder that impairs my lifestyle and cramps my daily schedule of physical activities and creative, intellectual pursuits.

I AM the only thing getting in the way of my success. The wisdom of the brilliant statement "you cannot know the sweet without knowing the bitter" rings true in every aspect of life. I cannot live long enough to learn every lesson on my own. If I am to "see further by standing on the shoulders of giants", I have to be humble enough to learn lessons from other people and learn the lesson life teaches me the FIRST time.

Resisting learning from a problem does not change the problem; it does not improve the situation: it simply ensures that it roadblocks your own progress and limits the creativity of what could be an innovative solution.

THAT is the beauty of life. Without the problems, you would not, could not, ever improve upon what you are at the beginning.

"There is nothing to be learned at the summit, and everything to be learned during the journey."

My life, like many others, has been peppered with sadness, disappointment and atrocities. But by keeping an open mind, an optimistic attitude and an "Others have had it worse so I have no excuses and I will overcome" perspective- while I may emerge from each new trial a little scarred, I WILL still triumph.

Life may beat the crap out of you, and people will disappoint, betray and abandon you at every turn, but if you pick yourself up every time, grit your teeth, dig in your heels and keep going- you will always be victorious.

I am grateful I was bullied as a child for being so different and not fitting in. It taught me in a way I never could have otherwise learned to be sympathetic to others. To recognize their need to be loved and accepted. To acknowledge everyone's humanity, no matter how different they are from me. To be empathetic to people who's trials seem incomprehensible. And to never treat people less than I would want to be treated. It taught me to stand up for myself since no one else will. And that self-esteem comes from within- it cannot be bought or inherited and no one can give it to you.

I am grateful I grew up without my parents, so that I might always remember how desperately each child- my children- need their parents. How fundamental that time and attention and love *on a daily basis* is! How BOTH parents fulfill a vital role that the other can NEVER substitute completely. How fleeting childhood is and how impactful it is on the rest of a person's life.

I am grateful I lost my mom and stepdad to a tragic car accident when I was 24, and learned first hand that life is uncertain and you should never let stupid grudges get in the way of your love. That the people you care about should always be the focus of your life. That life is momentary and you should never take people for granted, no matter how they might frustrate or infuriate you.

I am grateful my ex divorced me. I don't think I would have ever left him, no matter how diverged we'd grown; no matter how loveless our marriage had become. And I would have stagnated, simmering in a false sense of security about doing the "right thing" and "hanging in there" for the kids. But because my ex took the initiative and left me- literally- with no other options but to re-evaluate and take charge of my life- I have discovered new exciting hobbies, had amazing new growth experiences, made incredible new friends and taken on life with a new sense of wonder and enthusiasm.

I am grateful for my personal failures and struggles- some which have left me shell-shocked, a sobbing heap on the floor, wishing desperately for a different life, a different body, a different *anything*. Those dark times have taught me to not judge and criticize other people's failings and weaknesses. To expect other people to let me down so I'm not resentful and bitter when it happens. To always have a backup plan because you never know what life will throw at you- but that life WILL deal you unfair and painful blows when you least expect it.

And I'm trying to be grateful that I'm about to lose my grandparents who raised me. The frailties of old age and disease are winding down their own journeys in this life. They don't have much time left and I'm about to be without any kind of "parent" figure in my life. I know I will overcome this as well.

Much as it pains me they are over 3,400 miles away and even if I see my hero- my grandpa again, he will have been so altered by the degenerative disease of Alzheimer's that he probably won't recognize me.

And I am incapable of relieving my other hero- my grandma- who only still recently is in remission from breast cancer, sustaining major hearing loss and other ailments of age and is now elderly and weak, struggling to provide care and support for her slowly dying husband of 60 years- I must remember that life is a beautiful, wonderful thing. That *time* is too precious to waste.

Don't wait to realize your dreams. Don't let fear hold back your ambitions. Don't let pain and problems slow your successes. It seems appropriate that I heard just this morning the country song that says: "I hope you get the chance, to live like you were dying".

Sweat, blood and tears are all part of this experience we call life. But love, wonder and determination allow us to emerge from this life, transcended- molded by brutal experiences into amazing people; humbled and broken- yet wise and powerful.

Don't waste a moment of your time. Live. Discover your passions. Realize your dreams. Tackle your personal monsters. Cherish the people around you. But whatever else you do: experience life- the vein pulsing, back breaking, mind blowing, excruciatingly real and painfully vivid, intoxicating pleasure… of LIVING.

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