“Go sit on a chair and look at the sky,” she said, “and thank God you don’t have a pain.”
So says the grandmother of author J.R. Moehringer in his New York Times bestseller, “The Tender Bar.” She felt he wasn’t being as strong as he should be (Did I mention he was all of nine years old?).
I laughed aloud when I read this quote. Because I feel your pain, J.R..
I come from a family where you must always be thanking God for what you don’t have. In other words: I was brought up to think that in addition to the long list of items I should be thanking God for, I had to thank Him for not having the opposite of those things. (And yes, I use Him with a capital H. It’s a throwback to my Catholic school girl days. I really don’t see God as having a gender. But I contest that no female would have created bad hair days and lengthy childbirth. Except maybe as a constant in one level of hell.)
Among those items I was supposed to be thankful for avoiding: a bad reputation (oh, my mother was a fan of this one). Cancer. Pneumonia. Bad grades. A poor complexion. Holey clothes and starvation—I’m not sure if these two always come in a pair but when my parents mentioned them, they coupled them every darn time.
Backwards, I know. Meh. We were Catholic. Good at guilt.
And I somehow got the feeling that if I was not up to snuff on my lists, one of Those Awful Things You Don’t Want would appear in my life. Forgetting to thank God that I didn’t have pneumonia meant my chronic croup would suddenly turn into a deadly disease.
It’s a wonder I wasn’t sporting hives from the constant pressure.
I look back now and want to ask my parents why neither of them told us to ask God for bodacious bounty. To thank Him in advance for all the great things coming our way.
It’s just not the way things were done in our family.
We don’t tend to ask for things and hand it over to God. Oh, we might say we do. Some of us might even succeed at this some of the time. But as a regular gig? Nah. Not so much.
Instead, we worry. God forbid we ask for too much. And when the mediocre or crappy comes our way, we say, “Well, it could be worse.” We mumble about “not so bad” and “at least I’m not going through what poor Mindy is experiencing” and sad little similar bits.
We seem to be thanking God that we don’t have a pain.
Instead, we could be getting out there celebrating our good health by playing tennis or learning to samba. Rejoicing in our good fortune by toasting to the raise we boldly asked for and received. Whooping it up because it is Friday night and we feel good just to be alive.
True joy, true freedom, means being able to ask for your good and know the answer that comes back has nothing to do with deservedness. It might have to do with a larger divine plan that your tiny human brain cannot fully fathom, but it does not have to do with you being or not being one of the Chosen Ones.
I have one sister who fought cancer and four who have not had to face that hurdle. She is equally as deserving, prayed equally as hard, tried to live by the book. Maybe that last bit is actually what didn’t serve her well, in the end. Who knows?
We want to ward off the undesired. And some of us, as enlightened as we think we are, still think of receiving what we don’t want, didn’t ask for, as punishment.
Sometimes, it is a gift. Wrapped with awful, tacky bows and stinking like Limburger cheese, but in the end—a gift. For our growth or that of those around us. The courageous among us find our joy in the midst of such unwanted gifts.
I remember dinner conversations as a teen in which I wanted to crawl out of my skin because we spent 20 minutes discussing someone’s cancer. The ins, the outs, the probabilities, the horror of it. I never understood this morbid fascination with dodging the bullet.
I would rather be dancing to my own beat, unaware the bullet is in my general vicinity. That is what true joy is all about; being wrapped in the moment, bullet or no bullet.
I will not thank God that I don’t have a pain.
But I will thank him for the music I dance to and the beautiful, fully alive people making it. And perhaps the margarita waiting for me back at my table.
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‘God’s watching, you know.’ That was the mantra if I stepped out of line. I did wonder how He (he/she) had time to watch me and no one else but didn’t dare ask.
lol, Roy. That’s what my parents told me about Santa also. They tag teamed us!
Shift your attitude towards gratitude, I love it! Enjoy your weekend, dancing & cocktails included 🙂 Namaste.
I think both might be necessary this weekend. Or perhaps a good nap and cup of tea:). Either way, thankful!
Great piece and interesting perspective.
This reminds me so much of my Mamo (my mom’s mom). When I’d ask her how she was doing she’d be 100% honest. “I’ve got aches and pains and I think I’m coming down with the pneumonia.” And then she’d finish with, “Thank God you’re not old like me.” It never occurred to her that some of us want to live a very long life! I agree with you. If all I did was thank God for what I do have, there’d be no time to thank him/her for what I don’t.
My father liked to say “Getting old is not for sissies.” Funny how as we age, we’re so frank about it all . . . there’s a beauty in reverting back to the candor of childhood:).
This piece reminds me of my friend’s mom, who always said, “Worry works.” I held this philosophy for years, (I had to worry about that catastrophic event in order to keep it from happening), but realized that sometimes things just happen, and I wasted my time worrying about– nothing. Better to put on the shoe rather than wait for it to drop.
Exactly:). Because when you wait for the other shoe to drop, you rob yourself of the joy of the present moment. Instead of taking the joy as it comes and dealing with the hardship only if and when.
Beautiful! I’m trying to keep this in mind as I go through yet more small trials with my son. Trying to remember that we’ll both make it out the other end as better people.
I remember when I was in high school, I could pick out the good Catholic girls in my class because I picked up on the Catholic guilt thing. It wasn’t good for them at all. I was thankful my family wasn’t Catholic and barely went to church once I got around 8 yrs old.
A tribute to gratitude for all that we have, if we are able to see it. Thank you.
It’s the being able to see it that I think we all slip on sometimes. Well put.
Amen to that Kay. May those blessings be always there, for they all are in their own way, good or bad, a blessing for us all, for they attract exactly what is needed so that our hearts open and blossom to find that beauty within.
Well written and much wisdom my friend 🙂
Thank you, Mark, for being your usual kind and wise self. And for reading so faithfully!
Catholic’s are extremely good at guilt. Our mantra was “Bad things don’t happen to good people.” That kinda flew out the window when my son died. The truth is we should be grateful, but not for every bad thing that doesn’t happen, but for what is here today. We don’t know the future and sometimes we don’t understand why things happen, they just do. Being grateful for this moment and your margarita is often all we need! Great post Kay.
I am sure a lot had to fly out the window when your son died. I’m so sorry. But I do marvel at the person you are today and the wisdom you bring to others. I have a feeling you might join me in the Samba on the dance floor and for the margarita :-).
Ha! You bet, I am there. 🙂