Saturday, January 9, 2010

Hoffer's Arithmetic

Sometimes, you need a change of perspective.

I spent most of 2009 feeling pretty sorry for myself. In my defense, it was an emotional, exhausting, trying year. My husband got sick with pneumonia in January. Both of my parents had cancer surgery; Mom in March and Dad in October. In May, my brother suffered a horrible ankle break that required plates and pins and screws. A few days later, a freakishly strong storm (known as a derecho) made a shambles of our small town and left our neighborhood without power for 8 days. My husband's stepmother died of breast cancer in July. The following week, my husband underwent a heart catheterization for a suspected blockage. In August, we learned that our daughter has a life-threatening allergy to wasp stings. Spending the evening in the emergency room with my hive-covered, wheezing, purple-faced five-year-old tops my list of scary things I never want to repeat. So, I spent many a day last year feeling like I was being picked on and being afraid of what was next. I frequently remarked to friends that I couldn’t wait for 2009 to be OVER.

A few weeks ago, on Christmas Day, I stood in my parent’s dining room with family and friends and took the hand of the person on each side of me. My dad offered a prayer for the meal we were about to share. He uttered the words “2009 has been…(long pause).” The words “a horrible year” sprang immediately to my mind. Then, to my utter astonishment, my dad continued “...a blessed year and we thank you for that.” The next thing that sprang to mind was a famous quote from the writer and philosopher, Eric Hoffer: “The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.” 

Ouch. Time to brush up on my gratitude math.

Those simple words from my dad were the catalyst that changed my perspective on what I had come to think of as the year from hell. I can’t quite bring myself to say it was a good year, but I realize that there are a lot of things to be grateful for. My parents are both alive and active and doing well. I’ve had the opportunity to spend extra time with both of them over the past year. My brother’s ankle continues to improve. He is walking without a crutch, without a cane, and with only the merest whisper of a limp. The destruction of the May storm passed over the home of my family without damage and gave me multiple evenings of breaking bread by candlelight with neighbors. My father-in-law is managing his new, solitary life in an exceptional fashion. My husband’s heart catheterization revealed nothing except a healthy heart and clear arteries. My little one survived her anaphylactic episode and we are fortunate that she was stung in a situation that allowed us to get medical help for her quickly. Viewed in a different way, from a perspective of gratitude, things sure look different.

Now, just so we're clear, I’m no Pollyanna. I know bad things happen. I don’t want pretend everything is okay when it isn’t. But maybe, if I look with new eyes, I can cultivate a grateful heart. Maybe, with practice, I can master the arithmetic of counting my blessings.