I really don't know where to start today. I want so much to tell you about my experience serving dinner to the homeless last night (hints: everyone was grateful; no one was embittered; there were far too many children). And part of me wants to talk about the musings of children, which never cease to amaze and delight me, even in the pit of my sadness. But I know I need to tell you this: this project is no longer something that is theoretically intriguing; it's something I now see the benefits of and deeply believe in.
It makes sense why that is. When you start out doing something that you know you should do, it is -- at least at first -- a chore. Then gradually over time you begin to see the tangible benefits of that action, and those tangible benefits serve as invigorating affirmation that you are on the right track. Take, for instance, knowing in your mind that exercising will do you a world of good (you'll have more energy, feel better, weigh less, etc.) and, therefore, making yourself do it, day in and day out, even when you don't feel like it. For a while you're motivated purely by a commitment to do it, whether or not you feel like it, but then one day you notice you feel lighter, more energized and optimistic. And, therefore, you stick with it.
Creating my own happiness and choosing not to suffer has turned out just like that. And, as one would expect, Laura Munson's words have guided me through the worst of it. Of course, until now I've primarily been engaged with the beginning of her story: her sleepless nights; her commitment to find beauty and create happiness, at first moment-by-moment; her struggle with his behavior and not feeling hurt, etc. I've identified with that aspect of it -- the theoretical understanding that taking responsibility for my own happiness is something I ought to do, but I've continued to struggle with not remaining attached to outcome, wrestle with not trying to control things that I ultimately can't, and feel like a victim.
Toward the end of the book, however, Laura Munson's experience changes -- from theoretical exercise to way of life. She goes to therapy and, instead of dwelling on her husband, focuses on having a particular soup for lunch. Her husband yells at her and slams the car door, and she writes, "He sleeps on the screened porch again. I have a hard time sleeping at all. Here's what inspires me to fall to sleep finally: he heard those words. He reacted like a child. He knows it. I didn't say or do anything wrong. He got triggered by the truth. He doesn't want to be who he's being. His anger is real and it's scary, but it's anger toward himself. It's not my fault. And here's what I am convinced of. In fact, I think it's the key to a relationship. Any relationship: If you get out of someone's way, they will fight and they will kick, but eventually, there's nothing they can do but look at themselves and get real. Very, very real. Or totally self-combust in a life of lies. Or that dear opiate, denial."
And, so, she does just that: she gets out of his way, realizing that this is his journey, his process. When he lashes out at her, she responds merely, "Ouch." When he is ugly to her about the reality of divorce ("it's not just death and taxes you can count on. It's death, divorce and taxes"), while on a date no less, she stays quiet. It's not that his words aren't hurtful or that she isn't hurt -- it's that his crisis isn't about her, and it's the reality that she has the power to look beyond that, to see the root of the problem, and to refuse to let his words crush her inner happiness. We choose how we respond to things. We don't have to be balloons who are always affected by the wind; to be persons who allow personal happiness to be dependent upon others' words and actions. We can choose not to take their words personally and to create happiness for ourselves despite them, not to spite them.
So, let me let you in for a minute: into my heart, my mind, my world.
Yesterday He Who Is In Personal Crisis sent me an angry message. He is not angry with me, this much is clear, based on both words and circumstance. He has taken a leave of absence to take care of some family issues, and various things are not going well. He is being forced to come face-to-face with the issues that he has long since ignored and, therefore, never understood, processed or resolved. Sometimes our families' ways of dealing with things aren't healthy, and sometimes they affect us in the long-term rather negatively. But unless something happens that requires us to confront them, we merely go through life thinking that we are fine and everyone else is flawed. It is, therefore, good that these things are coming to a head for him. It's important that he understand that his way of responding to things, which he has learned from his family, isn't necessarily beneficial or productive.
On the other hand, he also has to realize, as Laura Munson says, that, in the end, we must make "a simple choice: to accept life as it is. Even and especially when it really f***ing sucks." We must choose not to suffer. This combination, then, is what creates the crisis for He Who Is In Personal Crisis: he must unravel what has happened to him and come to terms with the unfortunate ways his family has taught him to respond to it while also accepting life as it is and learning to create happiness and find beauty regardless.
This is where gratitude comes in. He Who Is In Personal Crisis has not had an easy life, emotionally. It's been difficult at nearly every turn, and he hasn't had many things that you and I take for granted. On the other hand, he has much that he, too, takes for granted. And until he is able to accept that some things aren't okay and to appreciate that other things are great, he will continue to be in a state of crisis. Because until we learn to be grateful for what we have -- which requires viewing everything as a gift and being humbled by that -- we will always think "woe is me," because we will always be focused on the wrong things. It's a seriously detrimental and skewed perspective.
That's why I'm getting out of his way, as Laura Munson suggested. If I don't -- if instead I try to tell him what he needs to hear or what I think will close this distance between us, there will be disastrous consequences. And this is exactly what happened in May, just before he lashed out at me at the beginning of this crisis: I recognized his struggles and feared his lack of gratitude and, therefore, I tried to soften the blows, make him see, encourage him to be grateful and not to take things for granted, smooth out the edges. The result was disastrous. Rather than confront those things, he decided I was the problem. So, this time I'm adopting a different strategy. This time I'm letting him get very, very real with himself, hit rock bottom and experience the rough edges, because it is necessary for him to accept where he is before he can be grateful for what he has and get up again. Then and only then will he find the happiness he craves and the peace for which he longs. It is, after all, all inside of him. Inside of me. Inside of you.
Thus, as Laura Munson once did, "I'm waiting for him to find himself in the middle of one word, and that word is: gratitude. Not the kind of gratitude you might find on a T-shirt in an organic cotton catalog or spoken through your car stereo by a motivational speaker. Not borrowed gratitude. But your own gratitude. The kind of gratitude you have earned -- and feel so truly in your heart. Gratitude that you are alive. That you have people who love you."
Based on that, if the only prayer we ever pray is "thank you," that will suffice. Because gratitude is at the heart of life.