Gratitude, Thanksgiving, and Shades of Gray

Cynthia Bailey, MD|November 23, 2016

What are you grateful for? What comes to mind when you think about gratitude? 

I love that in the United States, Thanksgiving is a legal holiday for giving thanks. I doubly love that it is a holiday to eat together with friends and family, gathered around a traditional meal. It’s my favorite holiday. Whether I’m a host or a guest, I love Thanksgiving!

In the theme of our national day of gratitude, I’ve collected some favorite gratitude quotes to share with you.

Do they speak as deeply to you as they do to me? Which quote lands the most?

“When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.” ― Maya Angelou

"Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have, we will not be happy -- because we will always want to have something else or something more." - Brother David Steindl-Rast

“There is a calmness to a life lived in gratitude, a quiet joy.” — Ralph H. Blum

“If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.” — Rabbi Harold Kushner

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” ― Marcus Tullius Cicero

“My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus." – Stephen Hawking

I fully embrace gratitude now, but that wasn’t always the case. Before The Cancer Year, I was picky. My gratitude was always qualified by what I had to overlook – gratitude in shades of gray. I tried to be more fully grateful by putting sticky notes with gratitude quotes on my mirror, computer, and steering wheel to help maintain a cup half-full focus instead of half-empty.  But I did have to work at it. Cancer changed all that. 

I’ve dodged the cancer bullet for 3 years now, and I’m simply grateful to be here. No more shades of gray to my gratitude. Now, I know deep in my bones that when I woke up today I am already on the green side of the grass. My coffee is good, the weather is great, and there are people and lots of interesting things to experience. It’s all good and it’s good enough! 

I actually remember the exact moment this changed for me. It was while I stood in front of my finicky oven in a chemo-laced, tear-filled stupor. My oven has been a frustration for me for years because it doesn’t like to turn on and set a cooking temperature. The computer board has been blown too many times by our frequent rural power failures, making the oven unreliable. To top this off, it can't be easily replaced because it is uniquely narrow - so when the cabinets were built around it they were also made to be uniquely narrow...and now the entire wall would have to be rebuilt to fit any new oven. So I endure. I have a long inner story that comes up everytime I set the oven and get frustrated, and over the years I have launched the story in my mind over and over. 

During the cancer year, while on chemo and awaiting the double mastectomy (which would tell me if the chemo worked or not, and thus whether I would live or die soon), I stood in front of the oven and prepared to launch the story. This time I stopped. Instead, the realization hit deep in my being that if I died soon this oven would belong to my husband – and he didn’t care if it worked. The oven would outlive me. But my oven-drama would die. The strong anger I felt was all in my head - which would also die with me. The oven would outlive me, and all my anger about the oven company, the cabinets, the architect, the appliance store, the power failures – it all would die too. I got the message loud and clear that my anguish was all my own creation – and it really didn’t matter. It was good enough to simply be in the kitchen right then. 

Since that day 3 years ago, I’ve been simply grateful. I’ve made peace with the oven (funny how it actually sets more easily at some times). I’ve made peace with many of the other shades of gray that colored my gratitude too. Stephen Hawking and I both had to face a dire diagnosis to get here, and we are here. Of all the quotes, the one below speaks to me most deeply:

“There is a calmness to a life lived in gratitude, a quiet joy.” — Ralph H. Blum

Which quote speaks to you? Where are you in this journey of gratitude? 

Warm Regards this Holiday Season,

Cynthia Bailey, MD

Beautiful!

By Sheri on 2016 11 28

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