Last night, I went for a stroll by myself. I walked under a waxing crescent moon, crickets and bullfrogs my companions. An occasional lightning bug twinkled against the backdrop of a night warm enough to be summer, yet free from the angst of humidity.
(I am grateful for the ability to walk safely at night, as a woman, though I am alone.)
I moved quietly, wondering if anyone watched me as I walked by their homes, curious to know if there were any fellow walkers close by, hidden by the darkness. I was in cutoffs and a white t-shirt, hair pulled back, earrings dangling, wearing shoes but no socks, and I walked in the street, conscious of such space around me that I could easily change my path if confronted by a car. But there was no need to make room for another in the silent Sunday neighborhood.
(I am grateful for the ease of my stride, the muscles in my legs, the pleasure of gentle air upon my skin.)
Lately I have worked to increase my awareness of the world around me; in particular, I have desired a closer knowledge of the many pieces of my life for which I am grateful. It is the single best way I know to quickly gain an ability to marvel at life, for once I start counting the ways in which I am fortunate, I am reminded that there is no end. Seeing all that I have removes some of the ache for all that I do not.
(I am grateful for the clear sky above me, for the firm ground below me, for the lush green that surrounds me.)
Mary Oliver writes in her poem “The Summer Day” that:
I don’t know what exactly a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed…
(I am grateful that I grew up in a family that values reading, in a society that encouraged that knowledge.)
I want to pay attention to my life, to the quiet moments as well as those that cry out for attention, or those that demand it without permission or kindness. This is my life; I have one chance, and there is so much to notice.
(I am grateful for the choices I have, even when they are difficult; I am grateful to have choices at all.)
I have never excelled at meditation in the traditional sense. Recently, I even failed in my attempt to create a corner devoted to it, going no further than selecting a small rug for the cause, which soon was called into action elsewhere in the house. I try to find it in other ways.
(I am grateful that I have lived in a way that has granted me awareness of such tools as meditation; that I could buy a rug, that I had a house.)
I attended a Baptist elementary school until I entered the 5th grade; we prayed every morning in our classrooms and had Chapel on Wednesdays. Still, religion never held me captive. I sought an inner resonance that I did not find, and even as an adolescent, I could not comprehend the idea of one ultimate truth that cancelled out everything else. Yet as a child I learned to pray so well that I was in my 20s before I could fall asleep without engaging in that habit.
(I am grateful to live in a country where I am free to choose my religion, or free to announce my lack thereof.)
Over the years, my prayers evolved from a script directed to a white-bearded man in the clouds to words or images of simple gratitude. A decade ago, a friend training as a Waldorf teacher told me about the practice of concentrating on each individual student for a moment in the evening, imagining what that person needed from her the next day. I adopted a similar practice, and now, every night, I picture many of the people I love. I ask for the universe to grant me an awareness of those I do not love, seeking wisdom on how to treat them with respect, generosity, and kindness, though I may not know to love them, though I may not know how to love them.
(I am grateful for the many ways in which I see love.)
Life is of course hard; sometimes I am raw beyond my own recognition, stunned by the world around me, and humbled by the size of this vivid, expansive, scary experience of living.
(I am grateful for those who bear witness to my life, and to those who allow me to bear witness to theirs.)
And sometimes, even when it is raw, life is also so gorgeous that what takes my breath away is not that it exists, but instead that I have had the incredible good fortune to be placed right here in the middle of it, crickets and bullfrogs my companions, an occasional lightning bug twinkling against the backdrop of a night warm enough to be summer, yet free from the angst of humidity.
(I am grateful for the night, which encloses me; for the trees that rustle me along; for coming from and going to a place of safety; for the opportunity to make this decision of an evening walk; for the knowledge that I have time to use as I please; for the friends I saw today; for the work that calls to me; for the nature that I love; for the computer on which I type; for the bed where I will sleep…)
Wherever you are, I send you my good wishes; let the breeze deliver them to you, silently, brushing your fine, soft skin as they land.
I hope you are safe, healthy, happy, and warm.
I hope you know that you are loved.
(I am grateful for you.)