This blog space was birthed out of gratitude.
In 2011, I was in the midst of a reckoning with my anger, fear, and shame. I was drowning in a deep, deep sense of scarcity: my fear of never having enough and never being enough. Somewhere in the midst of that reckoning, that drowning, a friend handed out a bunch of free copies of a book about gratitude. In a world full of supposed life preservers, I decided to reach for it, in the hope it would keep me afloat.
For several months, I engaged in the daily practice of gratitude, writing down everything that I noticed around me and within me for which I was grateful. The dancing of sunlight through treetops on the dining room table. The sound of my kids’ laughter in the other room. The taste of a single raisin. The still-quiet place of peace at the center of my soul. By the end of 2011, I wasn’t just staying afloat.
I was beginning to glimpse the shoreline.
Suddenly, I knew goodness was abundant, both around me and within me. I resonated with the words of David Steindl-Rast, who wrote, “We can’t be grateful for everything, but we can be grateful in every moment.”
Even when we are in pain, goodness and abundance continue to exist. It’s possible to feel the sorrow while seeing the beauty. Such double-sight can sustain you in the hardest of times, and it can inspire you in the best of times.
By the beginning of 2012 I knew that, regardless of how badly people might react to my writing, goodness and beauty and abundance would still exist within me and around me. So, gratitude in me gave rise to courage in me gave rise to writing in me. And on January 6, 2012, I published my first blog post. I’ve been practicing gratitude ever since, but an email I recently received from a reader has inspired me to change my gratitude practice.
Now, instead of being grateful for what I can see, I focus on being grateful for what I cannot see, as well.
She told me she’d been reading my blog since the beginning and had never reached out before, but she was grateful for the words I’d shared over the years, and she wanted to let me know. I told her I was grateful for her. Though I’d never known she existed—and though I haven’t been able put a face or a name to the vast majority of my readers over the last seven years—I’ve been grateful for every single reader since that January day in 2012, including the ones I’ve never heard from.
If Seth Godin is right and art isn’t art until it has been shared, you’ve made it possible for me to make art. You’ve given my words a place to belong. At times, when I thought the sanity I was finally experiencing might just be crazy, your enduring presence has assured me that I’m not going nuts. You’ve made the cold, dark, frustrating mornings at the keyboard worth every moment of it. You’ve given publishers a reason to believe in me. You’ve given me, by virtue of your very existence and faithfulness, hope for humanity. Because of you, that hope will never go away.
Gratitude for that which we cannot see may be the most enduring gratitude of all.
Because even when the world around us suddenly feels chaotic and dark and scary, our gratitude for what is not present is like a life preserver, keeping us afloat long enough to find the shoreline once again.
For instance, I’m alone in my office right now, but right now, somewhere, a child is seeing another lonely child on the playground and asking them to play. I’m grateful for that.
Right now, somewhere, someone is sitting in a therapy office and having the courage to feel pain so they can eventually feel joy. I’m grateful for that. Right now, someone is letting someone else into traffic and someone is tipping twice the expected amount and someone is asking a cashier about their day and someone is having the courage to forgive and someone is having the courage to leave. I’m grateful for all of that.
Somewhere, right now, a Republican and Democrat are having a productive conversation. I’m grateful for that little bit of sanity. Somewhere, right now, a Christian is breaking bread with a Muslim. I’m grateful for that little bit of unity. Somewhere, right now, a citizen of my country is caring for an immigrant to my country. I’m grateful for that little bit of charity. Somewhere, right now, someone is letting division give way to kinship. I’m grateful for that little bit of clarity.
Faith, hope, and love are rooted in gratitude for things seen and unseen.
Next week, in my country, we will celebrate Thanksgiving. Usually, we set aside a day to be grateful for the things we have. What if, this year, instead of being grateful for what we possess, we become grateful for what exists? How much more enduring would our gratitude—and thus our courage—become if we reached for a life preserver that isn’t just about seeing our own personal shoreline, but all of humanity finding its way to the shoreline of existence?
Thank you, Dear Readers,
who I have neither seen nor heard
for reminding me:
what we cannot see
is just as good, beautiful and abundant
as what we can.
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Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.