I was in line at the coffee shop the other day eagerly awaiting my caffeine fix, when I overheard a couple of moms chatting. One of them was describing the behavior of a child in her daughter’s class. The behavior sounded similar to T’s, so of course my ears perked up. The woman said, “Some days being a mom is, like, SO hard, but then I have to remember to be grateful. I mean, I could have a kid with special needs or something.”
I had to fight the impulse to go over to her and say, You should be so lucky to have a kid as kind and loving and remarkable and hilarious as my kid with special needs. What the hell kind of thing is that to be grateful for?
I’ve never been a fan of the sentiment that we should be grateful because there’s always someone worse off. When I was a kid, my father used to say (usually in response to tearful begging for a pair of Guess jeans or tickets to the Like A Virgin tour), “I cried when I had no shoes, until I saw the man who had no feet.” Even then it used to get on my nerves, and not only because I had to get the lame knock-off jeans. I didn’t agree on principle. I don’t want to derive my gratitude from the suffering of others. I don’t want to perk right up because some poor guy doesn’t have feet. What kind of way is that to think?
Not that I’m some Dalai Llama of gratitude. In fact, I woke up today swamped with self-loathing. There wasn’t any particular reason, it’s just my nasty demon rearing its ugly head. I could barely look in the mirror and I just couldn’t shake it. I put on my running shoes anyway, then spent almost every step of my run with my legs feeling like lead, cursing the fact that 4 miles never seems to get any easier.
And then for a few minutes I found myself keeping pace with a burn victim whose scars were so severe that half of his entire body looked like a melted candle. I found myself feeling grateful. But not because, as my dad would put it, I cried when I was mildly depressed and had a fat ass, until I saw the man who had half-a-face. Rather, I felt grateful to all the rest of the souls dragging themselves, fat asses and scars and no shoes and no feet and all, around that track at 6am. Who knows what those people are facing; what kind of heroism I’m witnessing every day without even knowing it.
I thought of the burned man- I’ll just borrow your strength today and I’ll make it the rest of the way around. Some morning when I’m feeling like the wind, I’ll loan my strength to someone else who’s out here limping.