Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Grateful Heart

It is Thanksgiving Day 2010, and I am a little shocked as I come here to see I have not posted for six weeks. Six weeks! I only have 20 followers and with that sparse of posting it is no wonder!

It looks like a real Thanksgiving outside today. I was a little worried, as yesterday we were 20 degrees above normal with a high of 84. It was hot and humid and not ideal for celebrating Fall and the coming of Christmas. But today it is going to fall throughout the day, until we rest in the mid 30s by this afternoon. That is much more like it.

As I look back on this past year, it is clear to see this is a "muscle" year. Meaning we have had a lot of forward momentum and a lot to muscle through. I am now two weeks from completing my first year of nursing school, with one year left to go. It is hard to believe this time last year it was still just a spark of excitement and one more year from now it will be pretty much completed, or at least this phase of it. I am seriously considering becoming a nurse practitioner now. I am so thankful for the opportunity to go to school. To be the kind of person who does not let her age or her sex stop her from not only dreaming but achieving. That I live in a country where women are encouraged to be educated and where men for the most part expect that we will be. The news is full every day of places where opportunities are not available, either through economy or ignorance, and my own ability to take advantage rises to the forefront of my mind when I think about things that have blessed me this year.

One of my greatest, most unexpected blessings has come from my patients. I always knew I would enjoy caring for people and I have looked forward to the intellectual challenge that dealing with health problems brings. Joseph and Alex have taught me that I am good at that. What I did not anticipate, and what has blessed me immensely, is the complete and spiritual peace that descends upon me when caring for others at the hospital and the overwhelming inner joy when I leave each day, feeling as if something I am doing with my life really, truly matters. If I had to guess or gamble on it not that many years ago, I would have emphatically bet that I was not a person capable of coping with bodily fluids or grieving families or individuals angry at the world, life and God. Finding that I am and learning how rare that actually is has given me a sense of self that is priceless in every way. I honestly get more back from my patients than I could ever possibly give to them. The vulnerability of illness, the loss of bodily functions, the loss of dignity, of pride or even just of the illusion that life shall go on forever in a state of well-being are all really, really tough times in a person's life. Few of us get through life without suffering such things on one level or another. How thankful I am to be put in a place that I can help while my own life is still functioning at a level that makes it possible. One of my greatest fears is of losing my health in such a way that makes carrying on this work impossible any longer. It becomes a great internal motivator to care for myself gently, a process that remains a work in progress. So it makes my top 5 this year of things I am thankful for. I am thankful for the opportunity to be useful to others and for the privilege of serving them at the most vulnerable times of their lives.

Socializing, companionship and relationships remain way up there when I think about things I am grateful for. This year has brought me a whole gaggle of new friends. My fellow nursing students have been there to commiserate, to comfort, to strive forward with toward a mutual goal. There is friendly competition, companionship and a bonding that comes only when something is being suffered through together. And there is a fair amount of suffering in nursing school. We all have moments we have to miss with our families and wilt beneath the guilt and the pressure. We are all up against the gun of judgement every single day, week upon week, learning things that aren't just "check the box and forget it", but things that may one day make the difference in what we can do in our practice and for our patients. I have never been immersed in a more passionate, determined group of people and I feel so fortunate that so many have thought enough of me to elect me to a leadership position and to maintain friendships with me that I hope will last long beyond school ending for us. And so I say to my fellow students, that you have made me laugh when I wanted to cry, have made me tear up with mirth at inappropriate times, have held me up when I have felt small, weak and insignificant and have blessed me immensely with your own determination and goals. We are an eclectic group and I admire you all so much for your own individual reasons. Thank you for being part of my life. Thank you for sharing your passion and dreams with me. Thank you for fueling my own.

I could not be doing so much to change the course of my future without a great deal of support from home, and my husband (how thrilling it still remains to call you that) has more than risen to the occasion - he continues to bulldoze the way, to lift me up and applaud me as I soar. It is amazing, feeling myself accomplish so much I never thought possible, but even more amazing when I turn and see it all through your eyes. I do not know what I ever did to deserve the intensity with which you love me, but I am thankful for it each and every day. You are my refuge, my stronghold, my amazing lover, my steadfast companion, my ass-kicking coach, my mentor, my deepest friend. I admire you on so many levels, but become humbled to the point of near silence (which is impressive, I know - not many things strike me speechless) when I see how you admire me. We are approaching our first anniversary and that fills me with so much happiness I cannot even tell you. I still thrill that I get to spend the rest of life with you. You so frequently maintain the big picture vision that I can lose in the details of my life right now - the patterns of success that feel elusive to contemplate when faced with the challenges that pull at me in school and sometimes in life in general. Nobody pulls me out of a funk better, nobody reminds me I am a good person more, nobody holds the mirror up to me until I am forced to look and acknowledge and find peace both with the past and with the present. I am a better person because of you. What greater gift is there than that? Thank you for loving me and living your life with me. I would say yes again and again and again.

My mother, my ex-husband, my children all remain parts of my family that top my list of blessings. I am supported, loved, laughed at and with from so many angles. When I see who I am become part of who my children are, it fills me with hope. When I see who THEY are, developing and growing beyond who I ever could be and beyond what I have in me to create or influence - as I watch them growing and creating themselves, it becomes so obvious to me that I am part of something great and good and spiritually profound. And that is one of the greatest blessings of life. I only have a few years left until they strike out on their own. I am thankful to have the privilege of mothering them. I am thankful to be raising them in conjunction with a wonderful man, a deep and warm friend who also supports me, forgives me, looks to me as a partner and shares so much of himself with me. Stewart is an amazing father, teaching compassion, commitment and moral fortitude with a strength I do not know I could ever achieve. We have walked through the fire of Joseph's loss together and have shared a deep commitment to our atraditional family that is rare. I am so thankful to be a part of this wacky, unusual, deeply loving family. Stewart, thank you for your partnership. For continuing to love me in your own gentle way. For being such a wonderful father to these amazing boys.

And Mom, we understand one another and get closer with every year that goes by. It almost defies words, the depths to which I love you and I can't imagine how bereft I would be if you were not here to share the direction my life has taken in the past few years. Thank you for your joy in my happiness. Thank you for being the kind of woman who showed me how to pick up, move on, grow and recreate oneself, deep into territories of life that sometimes society feels should mean laying down and letting it all stagnate. You are vibrant, alive, brave...and so warm, so nurturing, so forgiving, so fun. I love you so much Mom.

My best friend, Heather, remains for me a source of strength, of deep and soul-filled sharing and tender, soft understanding. I appreciate so much how you share yourself with me, the journey that you have been on an echo in many ways of much of my own. I cherish you. I know we don't have a lot of time together, and in some ways that is what makes it all the more profound, the depth to which I love you. It is a relationship that is continuous and stable, not defined by the finite. Thank you for loving me back, for talking me down from high places, for saying the truth as you see it, when you see it and for helping me learn. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself with me and for leaning on me now and then. I get a lot out of being your friend, more than you probably know.

As I have grown older, the childish divisions that sometimes crop up between siblings for silly reasons have faded away and with Joseph's death, a great sweeping hand cleared my mind, my heart and my life of a lot of internal flaws. I am so thankful for both of my brothers and for my Stacey (my older brother's wife), who all have watched me flower from a person who was small in so many ways into someone who is less fearful, less critical, more joyful. I have felt these open arms of family engulf me and I thrive in that sphere of well being. I am thankful for all of you, but especially Jeff and Stacey, who despite busy lives have carved out time for me and who have demonstrated so much happiness for the good things happening in my life. I love you intensely and feel so lucky to have such amazing people tied to me with family bonds. You add a unique and beautiful flavor to my world and I am thankful for you more often than you know (or probably would be comfortable hearing about). You are fun to hang out with, fun to laugh with and are just incredible parents. I love you.

I am thankful for the continuing relationships I have with people I have worked with - Vickie, Denise and Lucy especially. It is so easy for life to fade important things like friends into the background until they disappear entirely. Thank you for making the effort to keep me in touch, for understanding the chaos school has made of my life and for celebrating with me when things go right. I feel your support and care all around me, all the time. There are people in this world who never form a spiritual bond with people they worked with, and though that is hard for me to fathom, the knowledge of it reminds me that I have been so blessed in each of you. Thank you for watching my life move onward, upward and for cheering me on. In the harder moments I have looked at what each of you give to me and felt the warmth of it holding me up.

I honestly can say I am one of the luckiest people I know. There was a time in life I not only would have NOT been able to say that, but I was quite bitter about it. People who made different choices than me were the enemy and my personality was such that rather than face those things I would strike out. Somewhere in the past eight to ten years, I evolved. I am thankful for inner peace, for being content enough with my own choices that the choices of others no longer baffle, anger or threaten me and I am thankful for a sense of almost automatic forgiveness for the failings of humanity in general. It allows me then to be more forgiving of myself. It gives me a peace that cannot come from the absolution of others, but rather only can come from absolution of self. I truly believe the world is full of good people; that most people want to do right by themselves and by others, and that most people are going to make a lot of mistakes in pursuit of happiness, some of which will be painful to watch. I believe in the sanctity of the human spirit in every individual, the ability to rise up and overcome and that the greatest power on earth is forgiveness. And most of all, I believe the key to happiness, the one all of us miss at some point (sometimes daily on my part) is to live in a state of gratitude. It is impossible to be bitter, angry, jealous or dejected when one is aware of one's blessings. Not just lip service aware, but humbled in the heart aware, the kind that makes you feel like a Hallmark commercial inside. Cultivate that and you cultivate peace that reaches far beyond just the internal.

If you read this blog, I am thankful for you.

And last, but not least, I am thankful for this little furball named Layla, who has filled my life with play and laughter, snuggles and warmth and the dubious blessing of fishy kitty breath. I am the victim of unrelenting, passionate kitten love and that is pretty amazing too.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I hope your day is fantastic.