These Things

Reflections on Choosing Gratitude

Chris Prange-Morgan MA, MSW

This time of year can be charged with emotion. There is excitement in the air with parties to plan, gifts to buy, and lots of decorating to be done. These things are good. Connecting with loved ones and sharing the spirit of the holidays can make us feel alive and revitalized. With renewed passion we position ourselves to embark upon the new year with increased resolve… often considering a major change in lifestyle choices or shift in priorities.

Walking through the halls of the hospital and visiting with patients is something I spend most of my week doing these days. I treasure these moments as rare gifts which often seem to suspend place and time. These moments of exquisite present-ness are fleeting teachable opportunities which anchor my heart to gratitude.

I find that it isn’t the grand, looming experiences that elicit the deepest wellspring of thankfulness, but the small, “seemingly insignificant” ones we often take for granted. Ask anyone who has been intubated what it feels like to breathe again independently. Alas, this oxygen we inhale is not so trivial after all. This air we breathe is no small thing! Similarly, the gift of knowledge and the ability to exercise our cognitive functioning is most apparent when we begin to slowly lose these faculties.

As someone who reached the milestone of age 50 this year, I find that I am easily irked by the daily realizations that Father Time is not always so kind to us as we age. In fact, many of us are quick to realize that a sense of humor goes a long way to invite a bit of self-compassion and acceptance with the whole process. As an 80 year old patient suffering the painful effects of rumaoid arthritis lamented to me the other day, “The golden years don’t feel very golden!”

Today marks the 7 year anniversary of my life-changing accident, which caused a significant derailing of any future plans for a time. Two years of limb salvage, a leg amputation, prosthetic adjustments and acclimating to an alternative kind of normal has had a way of shaping my perception differently. For a while I joked that I had been handed a “chuck the bullshit for free” card, since I only had enough energy to focus on the things of significant value–the stuff that really mattered.

November 30th, 2011

The undeniable fact which keeps driving home is this: We human beings are so very fragile, yet exquisitely unique and magnificent at the same time. The human body is a fantastic work of art.

But we only get to inhabit it for a limited time.

As we embark upon the holiday season, I am reminded once again that moments spent with those we love are golden. None of us has a crystal ball to know what the future holds, but I can say with great certainty that we are unable to turn back time to re-live whatever we missed.

The greatest gift we can give one another is our selves. Our full presence.

The precious present is available to us at no cost, and a grateful heart is the best gift of all.