Resolution Chronicles: the debt of gratitude

Resolution Chronicles: the debt of gratitude

I owe a debt of gratitude that has been accruing interest for many years. Five years ago when I was participating in a couch to 5K class, I often remembered to complain and to beat myself up. I compared myself to the others in the class and felt burdened by being the slowest. When I finished my first triathlon later that year I was so disappointed that I didn’t run the entire 5K at the end. It felt like cheating somehow.

I forgot to be grateful, for my health, for a friend who tempted me into participating, for feeling the joy that only running can bring, for finishing a triathlon.

Today I ran at physical therapy, the first time since December, just before my ACL was reconstructed. I remembered to be grateful this time. In fact, gratitude seemed to seep into all the empty places inside and to brighten the dull spots.

In reality, I have many more things to be grateful for, that I forget to notice or that I actually suppress. Weird, isn’t it, that a person would feel gratitude but push it away?

I woke up this morning and got on my iPad like I do every morning, to check the news, the weather, the Facebook posts. A friend (if you’re reading, I hope you don’t mind that I call you that) messaged me to say that her cancer has metastasized.

I stop breathing when I hear or read such news. I feel like I can’t get air in. I want to unread the words, toss them back out into the universe.

But cancer does what it wants to do. It sometimes travels, mutates, sends out its microscopic and manic cells. They travel to other homes and lodge and grow. Cancer is relentless.

So I wrote back to my friend, saying the same inadequate things that we all do. I told her about another friend who has lived with kidney cancer for decades. It metastasized about 10 years ago. She is on a new chemo, but she has lived robustly over these years.

And then I got out of bed, showered and dressed and went to my urologist to have my 6-month cystoscopy, hoping that I was all clear.

I am. There is no evidence of disease in my bladder, and I feel confidence, maybe a tentative confidence (if that’s possible) that it won’t recur. That the original tumor didn’t send out microscopic emissaries to mutate and find new homes.

Relief sort of broke over me and I cried in my car in the parking lot. I felt grateful for a moment, but then I slammed the door in its face.

It’s always been hard for me to celebrate good news about this cancer, and most of it since the original diagnosis has been good. I’m taunted by magical thinking. If I’m grateful, maybe it’s like waving a red flag at that bull of a universe, who charges around and creates mayhem.

And then there’s the guilt. Why should I get to have good news when others don’t get good news? Of all the people in the world who deserve bad news, surely I’m at the front of the line.

Several things came along today that helped me open that closed door, though. The smell of lilacs and the sun, the sight of my dog bolting from the house before I got his leash on and running full tilt, being able to run myself without pain. The sheer exuberance of life.

If cancer is relentless, then life is surely more persistent and enduring. Surely the dandelions growing against all odds through the concrete in my neighbor’s driveway are testimony to the stubborn joy of the living world.

More importantly, it must be some sort of sin to neglect gratitude in the midst of so many people who have suffered and lost. Who am I to ignore today’s sun, to miss the chance to revel in it because of yesterday’s dismal clouds?

I owe this world my gratitude. As parents mourn the loss of their toddler in Chicago, and a wife learns to live without her husband of 30 years in New Mexico, as a friend faces metastatic cancer, who the hell am I to neglect gratitude?

This post is part of a year-long series about my New Year’s resolution. All in the series are included in the Resolution Chronicles category below. This is the first post that explains my resolution.

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