This article is part of the series “Put down your life’s story in 52 weeks” in which I accepted the challenge of writing down snippets of my own life’s story in 52 weeks.
- What are 50 things that you are grateful for?
- What is your philosophy on money?
- If you could spend a day with any famous person in the world, who would it be, and what would you do during your day with him or her?
- What scares you?
- What makes you stop and go “Wow!”?
Fifty things I’m grateful for? Eeek… so many? What meaning does gratitude have to me?
I could be a know-it-all and look up its meaning in a smart book like a dictionary. But I don’t think that’s what was intended with the question “What are you grateful for?”. It’s a very personal thing and may even change over the course of years or in certain situations. Let’s have a short look at what I know about my grandparents for example and the things they were thankful and grateful for.
Gratitude, take I: War times
I’ve never met my paternal grandfather, so I don’t know much about him personally. But I can assume that he probably was grateful for his sister-in-law, my grandmother’s sister, who took care of her sister’s little family and provided a modest accomodation for them while he was gone during the war. The last picture with him must have been taken 1941, when my father was just 14 years old and his little sister underway.
Having a home amidst the turmoil of war must have been a great relief for the little family, especially because they were surrounded by more of their extended family. Money was tight, and this support probably was a great help. My father said he didn’t realize it back then, but in retrospect that it had been something they were indeed grateful for. They might not have found a comparable accomodation without their family’s support, and life would have been worse than it already was.
Maybe that’s one thing that sparks gratitude: you are in dire need of something, you can’t do much to “earn” whatever you need, and someone goes out of their way to lift you up.
Gratitude, take II: End of war and shortly thereafter
It was a similar thing with my maternal grandparents. My grandparents had had to leave most of their household behind when during WW II they had been evacuated for a while. When they came back, they found their (rented) home occupied by others whose home had been bombed. But not only my grandparents’ home had found new occupants, apparently all their household items had as well. In the last months and weeks of war people had to make do with what they had – and “organized” and “found” somewhere.
Yes, nowadays many people would call this thievery and wrinkle their noses. Back in those days for some people it made the difference between surviving somehow or starving to death. Three potatoes fresh from the field without getting caught, two wrinkled apples that “accidentally fell” from a wagon, several lumps of coal that were unguarded when someone had them delivered to his house.
My grandparents’ blankets and pillows were all gone and probably warmed some other family. What would you do at the beginning of the colder seasons with no blankets for your kids? The people who “found” my grandparents’ abandoned home and the blankets and pillows therein surely were grateful, wouldn’t you think?
My grandparents were grateful as well, not for the lost household items, the stolen blankets or the missing pillows, chairs or pots and pans, let alone the cutlery and dishware, but that they soon found another (abandoned and in dire need of repair) small home for them to get out of the cold and the rain. My mother told me that they felt less grateful when the fleas hungrily came out from under the floor boards at night and feasted on them… But at least my grandparents and their children were alive and sheltered from the cold weather, something a lot of people weren’t lucky to have.
That’s maybe another thing that can spark gratitude: you get into a tough situation but soon realize life could have hit you much, much harder. And again it’s a situation when you can’t do much about it to prevent it from happening.
There’s a saying which comes to my mind that I like very much: “When you can’t control the winds, adjust your sails”. Maybe that’s what helps us to be grateful: that we still DO have sails to adjust – and weather through whatever comes our way. We just have to realize that sometimes life could have been worse to develop more gratitude.
Gratitude, take III: The Sixties, Seventies and Eighties
Fast forward a few decades. My parents had rented an apartment from my father’s employer, right next to the factory my father was working at. Almost no time lost for travelling to work. More time for the family, no bicycle or car needed. And the apartment was affordable. That was something to be grateful for. But then came the big bang… The old owner died, the new owner raised the rent – big time. Nothing to be grateful for, right?
My mother once said that in retrospect this was the best thing that could have happened to them. It gave them a good kick in the pants to spend their money on an own small apartment instead of someone else’s. Remember the wind and the sails? They could have complained and whined and felt miserable but they “girded their loins” and made it work.
Neither my brother nor I had fancy clothing or nifty gadgets, we shared a small room (smaller than the one we had before), my father used an old car to get to work (yes, a better paid and less grimy work, another “adjusted sail”) and my mother worked for other women as a freelance seamstress instead of only sewing skirts for me and trousers for my brother. It all worked – and nowadays my mom doesn’t have to worry about her retirement pension being eaten up by a silly rent. A small home, but her own.
Our parents could have eyed a bigger own apartment but they did not. My father could have refused to learn something new (he was 45 years at that time already) but he did not. Our mother could have felt inadequate to sew for other people since she “only” was a self-taught seamstress but she she did not. She found the courage to try at least – and she had success (I still remember women in their unmentionables standing in our living room waiting for my mother to pull their new dress over their heads, of course without ruining their hairdo… priceless memories, I always have to grin when I remember that).
My father made do with an old used VW Beetle even though one of our neighbours had a fancy Mercedes Benz at that time, much envied by many I guess. Another neighbour down the road had a large house for his family, while my parents were grateful they found an affordable small apartment which wouldn’t be too big and expensive for just the two of them after we children left the house.
I have to confess my brother and I DID envy a few of our classmates for their expensive clothes and fancy stuff. But our parents taught us by example to get along with what we have without overextending ourselves. And when we are able to get something extraordinary nowadays it is something special for us, nothing that’s taken for granted.
Sooo… that’s another thing to consider when we’re speaking about gratitude:
Work with what you have and appreciate that!
Don’t take anything for granted, don’t eye “something better”.
A wise man once said: “Comparison is the death of gratitude.” And what a wise saying is that!
Gratitude, take IV: In this day and age
After that short journey into my family’s past let’s get back to the the question at hand: What am I thankful and grateful for?
First of all for my family of course, their health, their safety. I’m grateful for all of my kids, that they all are alive and doing well in life. I’m thankful for my growing family (two weddings this summer within a few weeks -what a blast- and wonderful partnerships for two other of my kids as well). None of my family is seriously ill, none is addicted to anything, none has gotten himself in serious trouble.
We all stay in touch and step in for each other if needed even though life is busy for some of them. My mom is getting close to 90 years and still in good spirits, even if her memory isn’t as good as it used to be, so what…!? We all, old and young, manage to deal with problems when they come our way. We all have a place to call our home. Multiply all this with the number of family members, and I have more than fifty reasons to be grateful, really!
Can I ask for more? I don’t think so. Families are the heart of a nation, without families any nation will be in trouble. So, three cheers (or more) for family and partnership and confidence and trust and love within, things we really should appreciate and work for and be grateful for. Even if life throws rocks at me, I surely have enough reason to say thank you, more than plenty of reasons to be grateful!
Do you remember any stories of your parents, grandparents or other relatives when they told you they had been very very grateful for something, and you noticed their voice tremble? Did that ever make you think about what you are grateful for?