by Judith Ashley
December 1, 2022
Gratitude has a range, a spectrum to it. On the one hand it can be a very personal feeling, on the other hand it can be shared among many or it can appear to be shared among many.
I am grateful for the beauty in my backyard, for the birds (especially the hummingbirds) who visit daily, for the bright colors of the salvia and geraniums, for the calming fronds of the ferns and for the memorial to my parents and younger brother who have died.
However, if you were here at my house, looking out at my backyard, I’m fairly certain you would not see what I see. Oh, you’d see the colors of the geraniums and salvia. Depending, you might see the hummers.
What you would not see is the story behind each plant and pot.
And my son, who is blind, cannot see the colors, the textures, the beauty even though he knows some of the stories.
I’ve lived in my house for 47 years. My son was starting 7th grade when we moved in. I signed the paperwork finalizing the purchase on Halloween, 1975. He dug the swale when I disconnected from the city sewer in the 1980’s. He helped me maneuver the large pots into their current (and forever) places around the outside of the deck. Over the decades he and his family helped spread yards of bark around the yard.
Even though it’s been close to a decade since he was able to help with the heavy lifting having a yard requires, I am grateful for those years when he did that heavy lifting (not always with a smile and a joke and what matters is he did it).
Another aspect of gratitude is, when I think back over my 80+ years, seeing how gratitude has sustained me through challenging times. My best friend immediately drove to my house when she learned I had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She visited me in the hospital, earning herself a bit of radiation sickness. She also sat with me during the hours of scans to determine whether the cancer was still alive and well.
She also instigated my first mammogram by threatening to make the appointment, pick me up and deliver me. She was also there for me when I had the surgery to remove the two lumps, one of which was pre-malignant cancer.
Not that she only shows up when life tosses me buckets of lemons, she also initiated the Best Birthday Ever! My 80th celebration was memorable with my best friend, my women’s circle and a long weekend at the beach not to mention chocolate, crystalized ginger and hours of talking, sharing and just spending time together.
Another friend of over 40 years now has Alzheimer’s. I am grateful for her friendship, for the laughter and tears we’ve shared and even more, at this point in time, I am grateful she remembers me. Our many adventures, while wonderful memories, pale with the reality she still knows who I am…her friend in Oregon.
My family includes a surviving brother who traveled to Arizona to support me when our brother was dying. I’ve granddaughters and great grands who brighten my days. While I’ve numerous cousins, only one is a bit older than I am. I’ve considered her a friend and, to me, that’s more precious than being a blood relation. Her mother and mine were sisters. When my cousin and I are gone, who will even remember where our grandparents are buried?
In some ways I’m grateful I’m the oldest on my branch of the family tree. I grew up in a family that had Many Traditions that had been passed down from previous generations. Here are the ones that meant the most to my generation growing up.
Easter: Church, Easter egg hunt, and for dinner ham, new potatoes and peas in a cream sauce, rhubarb pie.
Memorial Day: a couple days before that holiday my mom and I would take flowers to the cemetery and clean the gravesites of my maternal grandparents.
Fourth of July: Flying the American flag from the front porch. Big family backyard gathering with hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, watermelon and hand cranked i.e. homemade ice cream. Oh and fireworks but only my dad and uncles could set them off. We kids had sparklers.
Labor Day was the last of the big outdoor family gathering with a menu reminiscent of July 4th.
Halloween: Costumes and trick or treating. My mom would bake elephant shaped cookies in election years. Decorations varied with carved pumpkins being the only constant. I have fond memories of waiting expectantly for the night when we got out the old newspapers, the pumpkins and with our dad’s help, my brothers and I would carve the faces…well, usually my dad did most of the work until we were more middle school age. How excited we all were to see the pumpkin faces once the candles inside were lit.
Thanksgiving: Always a family gathering although not always at our house. We did travel to Richland, WA to my aunt and uncle’s (another of mom’s sisters). Turkey, apple/bacon/sage dressing, giblet gravy, mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, pimento cheese stuffed celery, olives (black and green stuffed with pimento as special treat), and pies. Always pumpkin, mince, apple and in later years chocolate cream pie because that was my favorite and I volunteered to take on pie making duty.
Christmas: The most beautiful tree in the whole world, ornaments my parents brought to their new lives together, ornaments we made while growing up, presents spilling out as the years went by, children and grandchildren joined the family and gifts became more purchased than made. See above for food although my Aunt Ruth always made Rocky Road for my dad and my mom always made a white fruitcake and shortbread (the latter for my dad who was not generous with his sharing).
What I’ve learned about gratitude over the decades is that I have so much for which to be grateful. Not only do I have a roof over my head and food in the fridge and on the kitchen and pantry shelves, I also have rich memories.
There have been times in the last couple of years when I’ve had to be purposeful about being grateful. The death of a longtime friend, challenges with his estate, my own health issues, the isolation of Covid and the attendant fear of hospitalization and death should I become infected all took a toll.
I’ve a short story in an anthology Covidology: Stories from Behind the Mask where I share how I made it through those dark times. One thing I had to make peace with is the lack of certainty and the, at times, overwhelming knowledge I had no control over most things and little control over lots of things and thus actual control over very little. The Serenity Prayer became a lodestone for me as well as a meditation I cite in my Covidology story.
Many of us still struggle figuring out how to go forward with our lives. I’ve found that being in gratitude whether it is something current and tangible like my backyard or fond memories of another time and place in my life or renewing my connection to Spirit, to my belief in The Divine, to seeing The Divine in all that surrounds me…when I focus on gratitude I see love and light, joy and laughter and grace and gratitude.
And my world is a happier place to be.
For what are you grateful? Present? Past? Future?
Judith Ashley has been a part of sacred women’s circles for over twenty years and knows first-hand how important spirituality is when dealing with life’s challenges. She writes both fiction and nonfiction that reflect her spiritual beliefs and her teaching practice. The stories that make up The Sacred Women’s Circle series flooded through her in daydreams, lucid dreams, and conversations so real at times she wondered about her sanity. It was a compelling experience! An experience that was a catalyst to starting her journey to tell these stories and see them published. You can learn more about Judith from her website.