Monday, July 2, 2012

Practicing Gratitude


The following piece appeared in The Sunday Age faith column yesterday.


My six year old recently fractured her wrist. It could have felt like a disaster, but to my surprise the day was a study in gratitude.

My daughter is a monkey, forever up a tree or perched atop a netball pole, and a fall and break were practically inevitable. Luckily, she sustained only a minor fracture, needing no more than a slab cast strapped to her wrist, and for that I was grateful. We spent the day together, a rare treat now she's at school, and she nestled quietly into my lap in each waiting room. I brought along her favourite book and we cuddled, chatted, and read folktales while we waited. What a privilege, I thought, and said a prayer of thanks.

Meanwhile, her younger sister was collected from kinder by a woman who, I realised that day, is beginning to be a friend; and this realisation dawned on me with the gentle caress of a blessing.

How we experience life is so dependent on our attitude: do we regard life as a gift, or a curse? I certainly used to experience most things as a curse, and life was a painful burden; but over the last ten years, I've been practicing gratitude.

I started small, looking for a tiny flower in the crack of a grim stretch of pavement, a smile from a stranger's baby, a word of kindness between two women on a train, and tried to feel grateful for those little things. I discovered that the more I looked and the more I practiced, the more grateful I became. Even better, as I sought to find blessings in small things, I learned to recognise blessings at times where once I would have struggled – when my daughter broke her arm, for example.

Between one thing and another, I spend a lot of time with young children, and I am often reminded that the skills which most of us take for granted – walking, talking, writing, reading, counting – are learned only very slowly. Babies cruise the furniture for months before walking; toddlers need countless interactions with parents and neighbours and ladies at the post office before they begin to chat. It takes months, even years, of solid hard work as children try, try and try again to master these basic skills.

As adults we often forget this, and forget our own capacity to learn. But just imagine what we could accomplish if we really put our minds to it! Patience, kindness, self-control, peacefulness, gentleness and, of course, gratitude could all be ours, if only we are prepared to take small steps and put in the hours of practice.

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