Here’s another memory itched in my awareness: it is about a zillion years ago. I sit in a nameless and drab church meeting room on the West Side of Lower Manhattan. I uncomfortably look around this Twelve Step meeting, an asymmetric circle of 40 or so folding chairs, each adorned with a person atop it. I am new to this process and so beyond-uncomfortable. I have yet to have landed within myself. I am all squirmy and sweaty, despite the December temperatures outside and the lack of much heat inside. I understand little of what people are saying. Time inches by on the big public school clock that faces me high on the wall. I could fall over and die here, I think—it would be easier, it seems, than sitting and listening to people. People! Who are these people? It will take years for me to realize how people fully and wholly terrify me, that my fear of them, my fear of Everything, propels me to drink and to drug incessantly and endlessly.
But it is not about that I wish to speak. I want to tell you what awoke me that cold December afternoon, the pale light of the day playing on the opposite wall.
Her skin was pallid and she was blond. Very blond. And young. And cool. I was so interested in cool then, so seduced by it, so longing for it, so terrified of it. City Cool dressed in City Black. But it was her words that startled me, that shook me into awakening:
“In the morning,” her voice danced in the air above my head, “I thank my Higher Power.” I studied the air above me, as if words were written over my head, puzzling them for a meaning. She thanked her Higher Power?
I could feel myself screwing up all my brain cells, trying to squeeze meaning out of her sharing.
“I thank my HP for—for–for whatever I am going to receive in that day.”
What did she say?
It was like a bolt streaked through my body.
For WHATEVER she was going to be given that day?
That can’t be right. She made a mistake, right? Surely she said it wrong.
What if she had a shitty day?
What if something bad happened? Bad shit happened all the time, of that I was certain.
Wouldn’t you just be thankful for the good things?
She said it again, clearer this time:
“I thank my Higher Power for whatever the day brings me.”
It felt as if someone doused me with icy water. I—awoke—into a new moment. Perplexed and confused, but slapped into the moment.
My brain shifted into hyper-drive, trying to analyze her words. Surely she made a mistake, right? Round and round my mind went, going nowhere. I was completely confused, but awakened to this idea. Awakened to the moment. I had been startled into awareness.
I sweated and squirmed, clammy, my folding chair squeaking beneath me.
To my disbelief and sheer relief, the meeting actually eventually ended. I outlived it. I took the Cool Blond’s words home, puzzling and quizzing over them.
Somehow, too, I outlived enough of the thick blanket of isolation that surrounded me to finally ask people in the Program about gratitude.
“Yep, gratitude squared,” they told me.
“You get what you need to grow.”
“It’s all good. Whatever.”
“Life on life’s terms. Be grateful for it all.”
Wow. Be grateful for it, all.
That was staggering then.
And that was all a really long time ago.
And it is pretty staggering now.
I continue to practice gratitude. And as I do, as I focus on what is with relaxed appreciation, more is bestowed upon me. As I focus on what Is Not, life constricts and tightens all around me.
There’s the choice.
There’s the practice.
Why the Cool Blond’s words shook me into a new life, I do not know.
How gratitude works, I do not know either. Surely brain science could explain it, I imagine. But that might mar the memory of the Cool Blond, of the clock that hardly moved, of the words that grabbed my heart and slapped me into life, of the people, the nameless and anonymous strangers who saved my life that day, and who have saved my life every single day since.
I think I’ll stick with my memory.
And I think I’ll stick the practice of gratitude.
As best I can. As imperfectly as I do.
I will practice.
Happy holidays. To us, all.
Oh, so much to be grateful for.