Gratitude, I think, is more than a recognition of what you don’t have while still being satisfied with what remains in your life. Being grateful is more than being happy with where you are, knowing it could be worse. In my experience, gratitude is a way of understanding kindness given to you when you had no expectation of it.
This time last year I was grateful for the relief of knowing the long journey through the immigration process with my husband had reached its most vital milestone and we could finally begin our life together. I was grateful to G-d for getting us to this place.
Today, I look back at one of the most difficult and dramatic years of my life and I find a whole new dimension of gratitude I had never considered before. After years of working towards my career, education, and building stability, I found myself sitting on my bed in my newly redone bedroom, staring at my husband and worrying how I would get through the next week, let alone the next month. As I found my health unpredictable and growing more so every week, my job fell from beneath me and I had to leave everything I built behind.
In my most vulnerable and frightened moment, unable to find a way to bring my family to a place of safety, I reached out to friends only known through online interactions and asked them for reassurance. Instead of merely lifting me up with kind words, they overwhelmed me by raising money to help me rebuild my life and keep my medications steady until I could find my footing again.
All of this out of genuine caring and love, piece by piece, from people who had no other obligation or reason. I packed my life into a truck, left a life of total independence, and moved in with my family in a home I had only visited on holidays.
Trusting others so completely was a lesson I had always insisted on avoiding, but without any other choice I surrendered and allowed others to love me. Today my husband and I share a home with my mother, who needs my daily help with our autistic nephew, and my sister, overwhelmed with caring for her daughter and son.
In many ways I am starting from scratch. Before, I was buying a home and slowly, but proudly, building a career I had never before imagined I was qualified for and pursing an advanced degree I would have laughed at considering just a few years prior. In the life I find myself in now, none of those things matter.
In a way, I lost everything. But in a more important way, I discovered a purpose I never would have otherwise considered. My life was once about building myself and my own value, then it became about caring for my husband and ensuring his life was safe and fulfilling.
Now my life is focused on sharing who I am with others so close I couldn’t avoid them if I wanted and seeing my mother’s smile at her son helping her make dinner for the first time in her life. My life is no longer my own, and neither are my challenges.
My health is uncertain, but I’m no longer lying in bed afraid of being alone if something were to happen. Finding a job, managing my financial obligations, and fighting through a system I paid into for this precise reason has become something my family insists on helping me sort out.
My husband and I find ourselves parents of an autistic teenage boy who looks to us for almost everything. To say my life has changed is beyond my ability to articulate. As for my future, I no longer have any idea what it could or will look like.
But I am grateful for all of it, for simply being given the chance to imagine more than I could before. As I prepare for what will be my first family Thanksgiving dinner in my adult life, I understand the kindness of this past year tangibly.
I faced profound challenges, but I didn’t face them alone, and the genuine kindness of so many people allowed me to see what potential and opportunity existed in my future. Being forced to let go of my plan, by my own will, gave me the chance to see myself as part of a larger picture. Caring for others in such a meaningful way released a purpose within me that I can’t picture myself without now.
My husband, never complaining, never afraid, guided me through decisions I couldn’t make on my own, and my family brought me home and gave me a reason to appreciate that word. My friends who gave from their own pocket to ensure I could keep going make me laugh every day and never stop encouraging me.
Even my complete loss of everything I worked towards in my career has given me the freedom to do what I was always too tired to try before. Being sick just isn’t as overwhelming and frustrating as it once was.
Gratitude is living with the kindness given to you even though you did nothing to deserve it. It is breathing with a deep knowing of where you belong and what you offer those who keep you close to them. After the dust settles, it becomes a part of who you are as you simply cannot see the world the same way any longer.
When I say I am grateful, I mean it very literally. I can’t imagine being anything else. I have more now than when I thought I had lost so much, and I love so much more deeply. I don’t know where I’ll be next year. But I know what love is and I know what kindness is and I know, genuinely, what gratitude is.
I hope those who chose to care for me this year can feel this same sense of purpose in their lives, and that if they are lucky enough to join with people they love this Thanksgiving, they do so with awareness of what really matters to them. I hope they know how much they affect the lives around them. I hope they know how they affected my life this year.
Happiness is a choice, and gratitude is a way of being. This holiday season, I hope as many people as possible can fully enjoy both. I will.