The right to be grateful

For several years, my renewed path to mindfulness included my focus on gratitude. As I became a parent, it became even clearer that the comfortable life in which I was raised was what I wanted for my children. I wanted them to not be spoiled, but free from worry about being in a safe neighborhood, free from concern about whether we would be able to pay the utility bill, or have enough money for the basic meals AND snacks. While today’s teens assume a cell phone and computer is a basic right, I wanted my family to be able to go to the doctor whenever there was a need. Being fully insured, fully fed, and fully entertained was our goal. Being fully educated was the underlying theme at every family discussion. At least it was for me. Having all these things meant my family was on their way to success, and I was grateful to be able to provide this for them as it was provided for me. So there was little doubt that when I became an empty nester, my attention should be directed in showing gratitude and being thankful for the grace I’d received.

Many of my enlightened friends were also at this point in their lives. We considered it a test of our faith or moral character. Acknowledging the ability to live free from most worries allowed us to be humble. To celebrate our personal freedom of no longer being the maniacal mother of teenage tyrants, but now living the life of respectful humility. We’d made it. If our children were still around to tell the tale and visit us on an occasional weekend, it was all good. However, my meditation on the benefits of being grateful took me down a thoughtful turn I had not expected. Was being grateful enough?

The basis of gratitude implies that you exist within a world that provides. That you are seen. That your voice is heard. And that you have succeeded. However, after much thought, I have concluded that the richness of one’s comfort is not earned by hard work. It seems, in part, that the privilege of being grateful is due to being born into circumstances that grant you the right to have. For all of my life, I have looked to my parents as they worked and struggled and then as my spouse and I worked and struggled to provide for our family. Little had I realized that my privilege did not just come from my hard work, but that my ancestors were able to own their home. That my parents shopped freely without fear and provided me things many others did not have. When my children had scrapes with the law, I could rescue them without further recourse as I was not second guessed as a bad mother or worse, judged as less than human. Gratitude had become my evidence of privilege.

I cannot begin to share with you how this troubles me. Being grateful, recognizing that I could have lived without but did not, was part of my midlife commitment to peace. Learning that this peace came at a price that I did not pay is overwhelming to me. How do I reconcile the future I want to provide my children, with addressing these inequities so that all mothers can be grateful and provide for theirs?

I do not have the answers to this, but like a pebble in my shoe, each step I take on this journey is a painful lesson that peace often comes at a cost. How expensive it is will be determined by how we share our ability to be grateful with others.

What lies at my altar…

In a time where it is easy to lose one’s faith in humanity and the simple gratitude for life, I am reminded of the many ways we celebrate our faith, our belief in goodness, and the power of this universe to shelter the evolution of our love for one another. Some find purpose in making time to help others. Others find fulfillment in prayer or solitude. Nowadays, I find myself restless and unable to focus what gives my life meaning. I look for things to clean and people to hold, to support, and to talk to. At times I worry that the periods of quiet in my life foretell of my becoming irrelevant and unnecessary.

As an empty nester, I feel like a parent in absentia. As a spouse, I’ve become an explorer into my self discovery. As an American, I’ve become an activist in the battle between privilege and achievement. My life these days seems full of planning and checklists. What do they say? Life is what happens when you’re making plans. However, even among the checklists and the schedules, I strive to live my life in mindfulness. Even in midlife, I still find myself caught between the lessons of the past and the planning for the future. It is for this reason I build my personal altar. It is here that I can maintain the focus on my life, the important things, and my daily midlife journey.

I am not a church goer. I do not pray at an altar or kneel in reverence at temple. I have, however, found great peace in creating a personal altar of sacred things. My things. My mementos. Periodically adding items of value and meaning to me and lessons in gratitude they represent in my life. A button from my father’s jacket to remind me of how a negative memory of someone close to you can change over time and become the good thing you need it to be. A sand dollar collected from the beach in the city I love that reminds me that I can simply close my eyes to remember the wet sand and cool breeze of my youth. A sandalwood scented candle placed in front of me is ready to light with the intent of breathing in my joy and breathing out my gratitude.

This altar tethers me to the choices I make in my life and how I want to matter. I don’t like feeling lost. I don’t like feeling angry at a cruel world and at he ignorance of others. At times, it is difficult to remain hopeful when there is so much ugliness and misfortune. However, in spite of it all, I find myself swinging between the times of awe and thankfulness for the moments of wonder and beauty I encounter in my life and the sorrow at the inevitability of the destruction of our planet and all its creatures.

At this altar, I have my candle to light my path when it has grown dark. I have my dragonfly to remind me that natural beauty is appreciating the individual, not always comparing one to the brilliantly colored butterfly. I have mementos of my family that keep me focused on my love for them and how I can strive to always be a teacher, or a friend. All these things, and more, allow me to not become overwhelmed in the abundance of things. I live in the acknowledgement that while I am not responsible for the lives and actions of others, I can be humble and grateful for what I have. I can strive to make a difference in my midlife that will be just as good as making a difference as just a parent or wife.

How is your journey and what do you do to make your life matter? What lies at your altar?

A wrinkle in my twinkle

My life has not always been easy. Ups and downs and things that scared me to my core took me to places that forever affected me. Now, I laugh more. I smile more. Less bothers me because I know that it wastes precious energy to sweat the small stuff. However, it has recently come to my attention that in my efforts to remain youthful in both spirit and smile, I am starting to wrinkle. Not in the cute creases of my twinkling eyes, but in the sag of my sagacity.

As a mom of former teenagers, I’ve often taken a discerning view of what life puts in my path. I trust, but am not always trusting. I am happy, but not always joy-filled. The direction I’ve taken in my life comes with qualification – with details, and with explanation. I’ve learned to take the good with the not-so-great. While I believe that life is what you make it, it is never perfect. Lessons one learns often come with a price. If you’re lucky, the wisdom that comes with experience shapes you in ways you’re proud of. Every crease, every fold, every dip into the unknown takes you to a new place. Being mindful of my steps, I focus on where I’m going. I measure my effort. I breathe in the gratitude of knowing that while each day is a gift, I am making the most out of my walks through this life. I couldn’t always say this but I appreciate that I can now.

Looking in the mirror, I see my life shaping my face, my physique, and my joy. I feel I must look past the wrinkle in my twinkle and relish the passion that has put it there. I must work hard to continue my walk down the path of mindfulness. Remaining in the present and not trying to plan my way out of midlife has been difficult. I don’t want to be stuck, but the mirror reminds me that there is balance to every choice I make.

I’m enjoying my midlife journey, and trying not to focus to hard on the lines and turns that shape my midlife. As long as I am guided to a clear path, and sunshine lights my way, a little wrinkle in my twinkle reminds me this trip has been worth it.