Gratitude ~ Oy, What A Week I'm Having
Nancy Koons Wenrich - one goofy old lady, I am so grateful for.
Rather than my usual approach of giving my attention to an idea, of blabbering on about the concepts and philosophic basis behind an idea, I had planned instead to treat my ‘Perspectives:’ this month, on ‘Gratitude’, in a very different manner – my intention was to write a short story illustrating the personal gain enjoyed when we live with a general disposition of gratitude. But personal events have kind of bullied me into a corner, a corner where I’ve had to, like, very much had to reflect on owning a sense of gratitude during some very heartbreaking circumstances.
I am surrounded by family. I am drowning in family. I have very few moments in life when my attention is not commandeered by family – and this is perfect for me. Just about every weekend there is at least one birthday or anniversary or graduation, etc. And now, they’re even making-up their own Holidays to get everyone together . . . last week was ‘Apple Day’. My wife, all the daughters, granddaughters, and a few aunts and cousins, spend the morning picking apples, bake goodies all afternoon, and then all the husbands and brothers, and grandfathers, join the ladies and we eat (mostly apple stuff).
My beautiful Mary
On this Apple Day, one of my many daughters came and stood in front of me, obviously displaying for me a torso-covering homemade cardboard cutout of a house, shaped like a boot, hanging around her neck. It was a reference to ‘the old lady who lived in a shoe, who had so many kids . . .’, etc. My Mary has 5 kids at home. Each of the windows in this cardboard boot-house she was wearing had a photo of one of her kids, with double doors just covering her belly . . . as she instructed me to open the doors, I discovered a sonogram – I’m a grampa again!
That was last week. At the beginning of this week, Mary lost little Lincoln. Her sister Sarah and her family drove down to Virginia, from Hershey Pa, to be with her in the hospital and to spend the night with her and her family. My wife Pixie and I couldn’t go down because my wife’s mother had gone into the ICU with breathing trouble. The day after holding her baby, already dead, Mary and her family drove up to be with us all as her grandmother was dying. My Pixie’s mother, my mother-in-law for nearly 40 years, died in a hospital ICU a couple of days ago.
And now, I am scheduled to write about ‘gratitude’. And this comes easy to me . . . I’ve just graduated from a crash course in gratitude.
We are all dying. We will all die. Our life on earth is contained, it has an end as sure as it has a beginning. This life we’re living, these days we are passing through, this is it – this is our life, the one life we have to live. So, that it ends is not the sad bit, the end of life is a normal part of life, that’s what’s supposed to happen. We will miss those we love when we can no longer visit them, but the fact that they lived is not sad just because they’ve come to the part of life at the end, when their life has run it’s course and is now over – the sad bit is if the life they lived, the one life they had to live, was lived alone. God has made us creatures of relationship, He made us male and female, calls us to marry and produce children, so we have parents and children and spouses and aunts and brothers and grandmas, etc, etc. We are not made to live alone, we are made to live in union with others, bonded by love to others.
The real us, the true us, the full us we were created to be only matures into who we’re to be as we are united together in love to others. I am only the ‘Mickey’ God made me to be through being the ‘Mickey’ who is Pixie’s husband, and Sarah and Natalie and Mary and Mickey Jr and Olivia and Benny’s dad, and the grandfather of my 13 grandchildren, etc. Popular contemporary thinking likes to assert that we are our own definition of ourselves, that we can only find happiness if we can be who we are apart from being someone’s spouse or parent, etc, that we can’t love others unless we first love ourselves, etc, etc. There’s a sense in which I find some truth in some recognition of that, but there is a very strong sense in which I, personally, count that to be a bit of horseshit.
We’re not constructed to stand alone, apart – we are designed to be in relationships, in community, in union with others. Certainly if a relationship is unhealthy then it’s not good to be crucially dependent on the bond of that relationship, it’s not good to define yourself by a relationship that is based in selfishness and belligerence – but that doesn’t mean we ought to define ourselves independent of others, apart from relationship, it means we need to fix or end ugly relationships and cultivate relationships based in love. This is perhaps a bold assertion from a high school dropout who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but; the opposite of love is not hate, the opposite of love is selfishness . . . that is what corrupts relationships. How can two separate people with different dispositions and temperaments and coming from different life experiences join together in a beautiful relationship, in true union . . ? . . love is the perfect bond of unity.
As the doctors needed to check her various machines and tubes, etc, and we were all leaving my mother-in-law’s room, I was the last one out as the door was being closed and I heard one of the nurse’s saying “What a special family, she is loved so much”. So, this is what I’m grateful for; I’m grateful that in this life, in this one life I have to live, that as I stood by the bedside of a woman dying, I looked around her bed and I saw a roomful of people loving . . . loving their mother, their grandmother, their great grandmother, and each other. I saw my sons holding their sisters in their arms, I saw husbands who married into this family weeping, I saw one of my sister’s daughters hugging my wife’s sister (I mean, I don’t even know how they’re related).
Nancy Koons Wenrich died. She was 79 years old. That is not sad, everybody dies, that’s part of life . . . it’s sad that we’ll not see her for awhile, it’s sad that we’ll miss her – but her life, the time that she had to live, this woman was surrounded by a remarkable amount of love. Gratitude has to do with taking note of and appreciating those things in your life that you are grateful for, that you are happy about, that provide you joy. Many of us have the inclination to see the bad, the sad, the ugly in things . . . we’re so busy trying to avoid what we don’t like and chasing after what we want that we often feel unhappy, because we’re not appreciating the things we actual do have to be happy about. My little grandson Lincoln died 4 days ago and my wife’s mother and my children’s grandmother died 2 days ago, and that stuff has a sadness to it – but had I not been assigned to write about ‘gratitude’ I would still be writing in some manner about feeling grateful, because . . . I can’t imagine that many people have been so close to so much love as I have been this last week, and I am grateful this one life I have to live is filled with so much love from so many who are so special to me.
If death has truly lost it’s sting,
And takes us to that “better place”;
Why is it sorrow that death does bring,
And tears that trickle down our face?
It’s not the unknown or death we fear,
We don’t need answers or some reason;
It’s that Nancy’s heart is so sweet,
And her face so dear,
That we’ll miss her for a season.
. . . and our guest contributor this month ~
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