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GRATITUDE

Whether your stories are filled with pain or regret, sacrifice or sadness, to relish your story – to find something in it to be grateful for – is a brave but I believe, necessary thing to do.

By doing so, you are paying yourself a kindness and gifting yourself with another way of seeing things, a way that allows us to find new meaning in old stories. When we are able to change our perception of something, we, in turn, are changed.

My experience writing this blog has so far has been something of a roller coaster ride. As I look back at experiences that shaped the story of my life, I am often plunged into darkness for a time which can be terrifying. But then comes the slow climb back up and out into the light, and the new view from the top allows me to see things from a whole new perspective, which like riding a roller coaster, can be quite a rush.

Expressing gratitude for someone or something often comes by way of a thank you note, so in a way, I guess this blog is my thank you note to the universe and all its players for getting me this far in my journey.

“Gratitude is not a passive response to something we have been given, gratitude arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us.” – David Whyte Consolations

I am paying attention, not only to all the old stories that are still alive within me but to how they have shaped and continue to influence the rest of my life. I am profoundly grateful for the chance to do so, even though at times there was and is considerable pain involved.

There are times when hearing a single word causes the memory of an old injury to ache for having recalled it. You wouldn’t think these were stories in which I could find something to relish, but you’d be wrong.

The words bald eagle (okay two words), can still make my ankle ache.

They conjure a memory for me of having fallen into the hole at the bottom of our boat immediately after my husband warned me to watch out because he was putting the anchor away.

We had already spent several hours putting around, drinking a few beers and relaxing in the sun at a pristine lake in New Hampshire. It was a windy day, so there weren’t a lot of other boats around, and it felt like we had the whole lake to ourselves, which was rare and lovely.

While floating on our backs earlier in the day, we had spotted a bald eagle soaring high above us, so we suspected there might be a pair nesting somewhere on the lake and from then on we were on the lookout for them.

Around mid-afternoon the wind began picking up again, so we decided on one last spin around the lake. For some reason this time an enormous old oak caught my eye as we did, and while admiring its beauty from the trunk up, I gasped when I saw the eagle’s nest at the top.

We ever so slowly pulled the boat up beneath the tree, quietly dropped the anchor and watched in awe as one tended to a pair of juvenile eagles in the nest while the other was perched on a branch jutting out just below keeping watch.

We sat still watching them for some time before I slowly reached for my camera bag careful not to frighten them into flight before I began shooting.

We were both mesmerized and hung out there for quite a while until my husband noticed it appeared a storm was rolling in, so like a child I was given a five-minute warning from him. He also warned me that he was pulling up anchor and to watch out for the hole in the bottom of the boat that was now open.

But in all of my excitement snapping these pictures, I gave no thought to what he had said and oblivious, I fell into the hole.

The pain was immediate and excruciating. I had a large gash on the bottom of my leg and was convinced I had broken my ankle judging by how swollen and purple it already was. I knew I was in trouble. Even more troubling was that all the ice in the cooler had melted by this point, and we had about a fifteen-minute ride back to the boat ramp, and a much longer ride back home. (I would later learn that I had suffered a grade three sprain to my ankle.)

Full disclosure, I am a terrible complainer. I complain about the weather all winter and insects all spring, summer, and fall, about other people that irritate me, and of course about politics, but these days I don’t know too many people who don’t. I am aware of how ridiculous I often sound, but that’s usually not enough to stop me from doing it despite that fact it never does any good to complain.

But during the long ride back to the boat ramp, with only a still somewhat cold can of beer to hold against my ankle as a compress, I never once complained. During the arduous task of hopping back into the rough water to hold the boat in the now very gusty wind while my husband hiked out to get the trailer and then load up the boat, I never complained. During the hour and a half ride home I never complained.

All I could think about were those eagles, how crazy blessed I felt for the privilege of being able to watch them up close, and about what a glorious day we had had together out on the boat.

My overwhelming gratitude was my anesthesia.

Another word, horse, immediately brings dozens of emotions to the surface, like love and connection, but also work and pain. Like the physical pain that must be endured when having to chip away at a frozen pile of shit before you’re able to pick it up and haul it away when it’s ten below outside. Or the pain felt when being kicked square in the shin, not breaking the bone, only bruising it along with my ego, but incredibly painful nonetheless.

Or being thrown off when your horse begins bucking at full gallop and having the wind knocked out of you as you hit the ground, hard. It rose up to meet me as if in slow motion and my last thought before impact was, brace yourself, this is going to hurt.

I was somehow able to take in a single large breath while pulling off my helmet before collapsing back onto the ground unable to move any part of my body. My still very young daughter left her horse next to mine to graze in the field while she ran to get help.

I laid in that field alone (no cell phone yet) for close to an hour waiting anxiously to hear the sounds of sirens. It was getting harder and harder for me to breathe and I remember thinking that I might die there. Strangely I was not afraid. I remember watching the colors of the sky change as it began to set all tangerine and pink like sherbert. I was so grateful for that sky believing it might be the very last sunset I would ever see.

And I remember being so grateful for the company of my German Shepard, Jake, who laid beside the length of my body, protecting and guarding me against the coyotes that would no doubt be venturing out before too long.

As I lay in that field all alone thinking, well, this is it, I guess this is how I die, I was oddly never afraid. I was concerned that my daughter would be permanently traumatized after seeing what had happened to me and I thought a lot about how terrified she must have been running from door to door trying to get help, (my husband and son weren’t home at the time). But with my beloved dog beside me, all I thought about was how grateful I was to have had such an amazing ride with my daughter that day.

“Gratitude is the understanding that many millions of things come together and live together and mesh together and breathe together in order for us to take even one more breath of air, that the underlying gift of life and incarnation as a living, participating human being is a privilege; that we are miraculously, part of something, rather than nothing.” – David Whyte Consolations

Many millions of things came together that day in order for me to take even one more breath of air. I would later learn that I had torn muscles in my back and broken ribs but thankfully not the collapsed lung the EMT’s feared when they found me.

I will never forget lying in that field, my body feeling heavy like cement while watching the sky change color, feeling the dew gather on the grass and begin to soak through my jeans, listening to the birds signaling the end of another day with their collective song and the crickets making a racket between the blades of grass all around me. The soft hum of a plane flying overhead, the scent of death wafting in the wind as it kicked up decaying piles of leaves and tossed them around as easily as I had been tossed from my horse.

And my horses, seen only in my periphery now, still happily and obliviously munching away at the still lush green fields, reminding me of some of my favorite sounds on earth: them crunching on carrots pulled from the garden that were grown especially for them, and the clip-clop sound of their hooves hitting the pavement. Or the sweet smell of them, a delicate balance of dried mud leftover after an exhilarating ride, and homemade fly-spray containing white vinegar, eucalyptus and citronella oil, and the conditioner sprayed on thick wavy manes and tails, combined with the smell of sweet hay, it was all intoxicating. And I was filled with gratitude for all of it.

Not only gratitude for our ride that day but immense gratitude for my entire life – the wildest ride of all.

 

NEXT WEEK: GROUND

About Amy

I am many things to many people. Daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, friend. I am a worshiper of nature on a journey inward, rewriting my story one word at a time.

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