Recently I was thumbing through an issue of Good Housekeeping Magazine and ran across an article where various authors, celebrities, and readers expressed their reasons for gratitude. Some were interesting, some thought provoking, some of the oh, please variety, but one stood out from the rest. It was written by Maya Angelou, and I quote it here in its entirety:

There was a time when I was in a state of utter despair, immersed in guilt over promises made on which I had not delivered. I went to my vocal coach, Fred Wilkerson, weeping copiously. He asked what was the matter. I responded, “I’m going crazy. I am almost at the brink of suicide.” He offered me a legal-size, lined yellow pad and a pen. He said, “Write down your blessings!” Furious that he didn’t understand my condition, I shouted, “Don’t talk nonsense, I’m telling you I am going crazy.” He said, “Write down that you could hear me say ‘write down’ and think of the millions who cannot hear the cries of their babies, or the sweet words of their beloveds, or the alarm that could help them seek safety. Write down that you can see this yellow pad and think of the millions on this planet who cannot see the smiles of their growing children or the delight in the faces of their beloveds, or the colors of the sunrise and the softness of the twilight. Write down that you know how to write. Write down that you know how to read.” Wilkie, as he was known, gave me that lesson in 1955. Fifty-five years later, I have written 31 books, essays, plays, and lyrics for songs — all on yellow pads. I remain in an attitude of gratitude.

Maya Angelou performer, poet, and author of Great Food, All Day Long  

Even though I consider myself to be very grateful for my life overall, there are times when I get caught up in busyness, frustrations, and the daily grind, and forgot how to express my gratitude.

I found Ms. Angelou’s quote particularly inspiring because it reminds me that even people as talented as she is have dark days, can admit to them, and sometimes require help to get out of them. It’s a lesson to us all that there is always something to be grateful for even when we feel we – or life – is at its worst. 

Some of the many things I am grateful for today:

My husband, my daughter, and my wonderfully large, extended family

Old friends and new acquaintances

A pleasant conversation when and where you least expect it

Resiliency

Freedom

A curious mind

Warm clothing on a cold day

Access to books, movies, music, magazines, the Internet

Cookies, brownies, chocolate

An abundance of good, healthy food to eat

The ability to cook

The ability to read and write

Glasses and contacts that correct my vision deficit

Modern medicine that saves my life on a daily basis

The sun when it shines bright and warm

Nature’s endless variety

The chance of snow

Tomatoes straight from the vine

Love, smiles, and kisses

Laughter

Clean drinking water

A tiny candy cane

Help from someone just when I needed it most

A message from a loved one that says: “I love you,”  “I miss you,” or  “thank you”

Memories

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In the past I have gotten involved in various ways (Secret Santas, walkathons, fundraisers, Relay for Life, literacy tutor), but at times it has been sporadic and there have been long stretches (especially during times of illness or stress) where I found it easier to write a check for a cause as apposed to doing.

But with parenthood comes hopes and dreams for a childs future and subsequently a lot of self examination. We all have ideas about the type of person we want our kids to become, and as I look at my daughter and consider my hopes for her future character, I know the best way to convey those traits is to emulate them myself. Which leads me to…getting involved.

There are a number of avenues that come to mind that I want to pursue – some now and some later when Little M is a bit older and can take part. But two that have been nagging at me of late are Relay for Life, and becoming more involved in supporting our troops.

Relay for Life is particularly near and dear to me because of the devastating affect that cancer has had – especially in the last ten years or so – on my family and friends. It seems almost epidemic. I participated on a team long distance a few years ago and had a blast, but this year I’d like to form a team locally so that I can be more involved in fundraising. Now that vacation is over, this will be my next major project to tackle.

Supporting our troops is a no-brainer, and doubly so because of the large number of family members that have served. I have been looking at soldiersangels.com and am interested in a number of their programs. I’ve decided to start with their letter writing program – because showing our gratitude is one of the single most important ways we can show our support. Then I’d like to join one of their sewing project teams.

Yesterday I talked about how vacation had inspired me to edit – by addition or subtraction – my life so that it is more in line with with what I value and want out of life. Getting more involved in the community and world around me is one way of adding to my life things that are important to me. It also gives me a prime opportunity to demonstrate to my daughter my values and to help her see beyond herself.

If you have children (or even if you don’t), I would love to hear from you about how you incorporate community service into your lives. What do you do? How do/did you get your children involved? What has been their reaction to it? What have you/they learned from the experience?

Earlier today the phrase “early warning signals” popped into my head, and being a certified Google-holic I had to type it into the search bar. I got 2,200,000 hits in 0.39 seconds. Wow.

According to my good buddy Mr. Google, there are early warning signs, signals, and systems for just about topic that one can imagine. If you think about that for a moment, it’s extremely reassuring. There are signals that warn you of a problem in advance. You just have to be open to receiving what the signals are telling you and then take action.

This is significant to me because over the last couple weeks I’ve been receiving my own personal early warning signals. I’ve felt a little off, I have woken up just as tired as when I went to bed, I have had aches and pains that I don’t normally have. After asking myself for the millionth time “What’s wrong with you Donna?” I put the question on the back burner of my brain to stew up an answer and thankfully it did.

The answer wasn’t pretty, but it was truthful. I’ve gotten slack. I’ve fallen out of the routine of healthy habits, and I’ve allowed a number of significant stressors in my life weigh me down creating a vicious cycle of more stress and less healthy habits. I have Crohn’s Disease so being vigilante about maintaining a healthy lifestyle and managing my stress are (and should be) my top priorities, yet every once in a while I get too comfortable in my current “healthy” status and develop a case of the lazies. 

The early warning signals that I have been experiencing the past few weeks are my body’s way of telling me to stop, regroup, and get back on track before I throw myself into a flair up of my illness. 

I’ve had Crohn’s for about ten years now. Early on I went through a period of denial and ended up paying for that attitude with a sixteen-month nightmare. Educating myself about Crohn’s and realizing that my situation could always be worse were the first steps in the path to a healthier and happier lifestyle. Since then I’ve stayed mostly on track.

Today started off badly, but now that I’ve recognized what is going on; I know what steps I need to take to correct my path. I’m grateful that my body has its own built in Early Warning System and that I’ve finally learned how to interpret its signals.