So this happened last week.
You can picture it. On a rushed, early morning, a harried mother backs her minivan out of the garage. She failed to notice that the last person to drive it (not her!) had made a small (but crucial!) change to her typical parking job.
And thus it was that the van just missed taking out the basketball stand, settling for the passenger side mirror instead. What followed (to my son’s great delight) was a stream of profanity that kind of rivaled the dad in The Christmas Story.
A broken mirror is a relatively small thing. Still, it stings. And not just because it may have happened one other time when THE OTHER family driver pulled too far to the ride side thing as opposed to RIGHT DOWN THE MIDDLE WHICH MAKES SO MUCH MORE SENSE. (Not that I get agitated about such things, we writers like to use all caps for emphasis.)
There’s just so many worries already, large and small, close and global. It feels like a piling on; it gets a body down. And then I chanced upon this NPR story: “Gratitude Is Good For The Soul And Helps The Heart, Too.”
Paul Mills, a professor at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, did a study that found gratitude is good for the heart, probably because it reduces stress.
“Taking the time to focus on what you are thankful for,” he says, “letting that sense of gratitude wash over you — this helps us manage and cope.”
Dr. Mills not only found that grateful people seem to have less stress in their lives, but that it’s not too late to get to that place. After only two months, people who kept a daily journal and wrote down a few things they were grateful for had improved health benefits.
Well. The study inspired me to make my own list, using a broken minivan mirror as my starting part. Here’s what I came up with:
- I am grateful that I only took out the mirror and not the weighted basketball hoop, as that thing would have done truly serious damage. As nice as a new car would be, they’re not cheap. Plus that would be a truly sad way for the old girl to go (the van, not me).
- I am grateful that my son found my rant hilarious; that it gave me the opportunity to explain, once again, that curses are powerful words and should not be used on a regular basis but rather saved for those moments when they are essential. As they were here.
- I am grateful for my daughter’s sympathy. Also, I suppose I’m grateful for her ability to remain diplomatically neutral on the question of fault. It will serve her well in life.
- Ok, I am also grateful that when I called my dear husband to tell him what had transpired, he had a two-word answer. He used the exact two words that I knew he would say and those words still make me laugh. Duct tape.
- I am grateful for a still-working minivan that sits in a driveway in need of repair, next to steps in need of repair, in front of a house that holds people working on their stuff, and it is all good. Because we have each other and we make it work.
That may have just unleashed my gratitude floodgates. Because there’s a whole list of things tumbling out, now that I’m off the van and its wobbly but working mirror. Gratitude for family who are caring and generous. For my flat iron and coffee, which both save me on a regular basis. I’m grateful for people who celebrate birthdays all month long, for karaoke, penguin memes and my husband’s calm. I’m grateful for story-tellers and humor writers, for the cardinal who sits outside the front window and preens. I’m grateful for really busy people who still find time to reach out and connect. I’m grateful for my children’s empathy and their absolutely wonderful friends. For my wonderful friends. We are indeed lucky.
My heart feels stronger already. Because not only does gratitude relieve stress, it strengthens us for the hard stuff that lies ahead. The world is not an easy place these days. Fortifying ourselves with regular doses of gratitude, love, self-care, coffee, fresh air… that can only be good, right? And hopefully, it’ll make us all the more prepared to help those who most need us.
So don’t forget the gratitude journal and a roll of duct tape for the holidays–one to help your heart, the other for household repairs. (Just don’t use duct tape on the turkey. That can’t be good.)