Gratitude isn’t always easy to grab onto, but it’s always a powerful lifeline.
People in recovery call November “gratitude month.” Nearly every recovery group uses gratitude as a topic of discussion during November. People constantly ask each other, “What are you grateful for?”
People sometimes resist gratitude. They’re still arm wrestling life.
Sometimes people groan and roll their eyes. Maybe they just lost a job or someone they love or are barely holding on. Gradually, the question, “What are you grateful for?” thaws them.
Gratitude does that. Thaws a frozen heart.
It’s hard to feel sad or depressed or angry when you’re feeling grateful.
But gratitude is more than a feeling. It’s a choice. It’s a stance you take.
It’s a way to fortify your life to do more than endure life, to actually celebrate it. All of it.
All of it?
Yep. Even the messy, miserable parts. I call it finding the awe in the aw-ful. It’s tucked in there, somewhere. It’s like a “Where’s Waldo?” book. You might have to look really hard to find it, but it’s there.
My friend, Frank Harnichar, taught me how to find it. He turned my life upside down with two words: Get to.
He taught me that everything is a “get to.”
You don’t have to go to work or wake up with a fussy baby at 3 a.m. or clean the dog’s poop off the carpet. You get to.
You “get to” have a job, a baby, a dog.
Those two words helped me love my mom through Alzheimer’s. I “get to” visit her, I used to tell myself on the drive to Light of Hearts in Bedford, where she lived for three years before she died on Election Day in 2016.
It wasn’t always easy to love her. Sometimes her mind was like the needle on a broken record. It kept replaying the scratchy parts no one wanted to hear. You couldn’t lift the needle. You just had to listen to her complain over and over and love her anyway.
On the drive to see her, I would tell myself, this is a “get to.” I “get to” visit. I “get to” hear her stories.
When she died, I had no regrets. I got to love her.
Last year my friend, Frank, died. He was a Vietnam vet, a dad, a house painter by trade and a friend to everyone he met.
I met him when I had cancer back in 1998. He was wearing a “Life is Good” cap. I told him I needed to remember that, as life was going to get rough with chemo knocking out my hair. He went out that day, bought me a “Life is Good” hat and dropped if off at my house. I wore it the whole time I was bald. And life was good.
Even with cancer.
I practiced that “get to.” I told myself, I “get to” have chemo. I “get to” have radiation. Some people don’t have any medical options left. I “get to” live.
Last year, Frank went into the hospital for what we thought was a routine heart bypass surgery. He never made it home.
And now we “get to” miss all the things we treasured about him.
Thanksgiving is a big “get to.” It’s my favorite holiday. It’s a reminder to give thanks, not just for the turkey and the football games and those gathered around the table, but for life itself.
Even the messy parts.
Four decades ago, when I was a struggling single mom with no college degree and barely an income, my dear friend, Kathy, would always ask me, “What are you grateful for?” She ended every phone calling asking me to name three things.
My daughter always made the top three.
Now my list is endless. And my daughter still makes the top three.
At our Thanksgiving, we go around the table and share what we are grateful for. It’s so moving to hear everyone’s “get to.” We don’t just share the mountain top joys, we share the struggles in the valley. No matter what, we’re all grateful that we “get to” spend another Thanksgiving together.
While we’re talking about gratitude, I want to thank you for being a “get to” for me. I get to write for you.
Thanks for reading this paper, and for reading my column. I also want to thank all the advertisers and the entire Cleveland Jewish News staff that gets this paper to you every week to connect us all.
I hope you consider reading this paper a “get to.”