Grateful for the small things

So, I’ve been meaning to post this entry for a while, but life has been busy.

The last time I posted, I wrote about how my building temporarily lost its hot water. (That entry can be found here.) About a week later, I was at a communal meal, and we went around the room (all 70 of us) to introduce ourselves. Each person said their name, and one thing they were grateful for that week. Some people were grateful for diversity or inclusion. More than one was grateful for music. Others were grateful for friends, family, coffee, or sleep.

I said I was grateful for hot water, and I was.

After losing hot water, out of the blue, I spent the next week or so going, “oh, phew,” and “thank goodness,” – at least in my head – every time I turned on the tap and found that, yes, the water was warming up this time. I kept worrying that the heating oil would run out again, and that the water would stay cold, so I was relieved and thankful every time the hot water showed up, just like it was supposed to.

The incident with the hot water got me thinking about gratitude, and about what it really means to feel grateful. I’d like to be able to say that I am always grateful for my family, for music, for freedom, but I’m not sure I’d be giving you an honest answer if I did.

The hot water incident helped me to realize that gratitude is about not taking things for granted.

On the surface, that sounds so simple, but for me, in order to not take something for granted, I generally have to have some reason  not to, whether because I almost lost it (like the hot water), or because I personally know someone going through a difficult time, and it gives me grounds for comparison.

These past few weeks, I’ve had occasion to be grateful for hot water, but I should probably be grateful to have running water at all. I can’t say that I am, though, and that’s probably because I haven’t lost access to running water in a good long while, and so I’ve come to expect it.

Other things I should be grateful for include everything from having reliable electicity to my ability to walk on my own to feet. From having feet in the first place to having an iPad or a computer or a phone. I should be grateful for jelly beans and for the internet. I should be grateful that I have a place to live, and that I am alive.

I could list so many things that I should be grateful for, but I’d be lying if I said that I actually was.

Sometimes, I can be grateful for bigger things. When I see close friends fighting with their parents, I am grateful for the relationship I have with mine. But mostly, it’s little things that catch my attention.

When I’m running late for work, I’m grateful when there’s a subway train pulling up to the platform just as I approach. During my workday, I’m grateful when the thunderstorm hits just after I get inside. On Friday, I was grateful when I discovered that a wine store nearby actually carries some decent kosher wine.

In each of these cases, I had reason not to take these things for granted. I could just as easily have watched the train pull away, gotten soaked five minutes away from my destination, or discovered that, instead of one or two bottles of kosher wine, the store carried none at all.

In contrast, I’m rarely grateful for being able to fit into the subway train at my stop, or for a lack of snow in October, or for the presence of kosher cereal in the grocery store.

Why am I grateful for the train that pulled up, and not for being able to fit inside? Because sometimes, I have to wait 5 minutes for a train, and those 5 minutes make me late to work. But I’ve always fit inside the train when it pulls up to my stop, and so I take that for granted.

Similarly, while I know I could just as easily have gotten caught in that October rainstorm, I also know that, last year aside, it never snows in October, so I just take for granted that October is snow-free.

I also take for granted that, unlike kosher wine, kosher cereal is easy to find in just about every grocery store in this country. I can’t be grateful for the things I take for granted.

It’s been about a month since my building lost hot water, and I’ve gotten used to expecting the hot water to come pouring out of the faucet again. I’ve gone back, for the most part, to taking that for granted as well. Three weeks ago, I was grateful to have hot water, but this week, for the most part, it’s something I just expect.

For me, gratitude is not something that comes easily. Sure, I can say that I’m grateful for so many things, but do I really mean it? Gratitude takes a certain level of mindfulness, a certain level of awareness, that I, like many people around me, don’t generally have, and don’t think to cultivate.

The hot water incident woke me up to that a bit, I think, and while I still spend most of my day taking things for granted, I hope I’ve at least begun to pay a bit more attention to the blessings in my life, starting with the temperature of the water from my faucet.

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