The Very Things

“We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.”
― Cynthia Ozick

Who hasn’t had weeks or days like this? When it seems that everything that can go wrong does. When every item that lands on your plate is a challenge to your ethics or your knowledge or your compassion. When your plans are derailed time and again by forces outside your control: the weather, mechanical difficulties, other people. At times such as these we have few options other than to just do our best as we find a way through. Even though objectively I know I can only do my best as each challenge presents itself, subjectively many times my best feels woefully inadequate.

So when I came across the quote, above, from author Cynthia Ozick, it seemed like a good idea to take a few minutes in the midst of this week to be grateful for some of the things I take for granted.


Healthy, fresh food: This was my Sunday brunch, a frittata made with sweet potatoes, asparagus, onion, grape tomatoes, mushrooms, cheese and eggs. With a rich cup of French roast coffee to wash it down, of course! When I stop to think about the fact that I have both the means and the access to acquire the freshest, healthiest ingredients – and how many people in this country, this world, don’t –  I am truly humbled and grateful. At the same time, if I really think about this, I am also energized to find ways for all people to have this simple abundance.


Natural beauty, even in winter: This photo of the Cedar River was taken in February on a day when I just needed to have a calming moment of stillness. I drove out to a rural access point, and spent a while just gazing at nature (mostly from inside my car, as the temps were dropping rapidly that afternoon). I have, only lately, come to appreciate nature and its direct impact on my mood. It seems miraculous to me that we live in a world where such beauty is, literally, just around the corner.


Kindred spirits: On a recent trip to sunny Florida, I optimistically wore sandals to the airport, despite the bitingly cold wind here. I knew it would be in the high 70s when we arrived at our destination. My friend, Molly, saw my toes and asked if I had recently had a pedicure, which I had. Turns out, so had she – and we had selected the same shade of sparkly orange polish! One of the things I value greatly about my friends is that we are all so different from one another – in age, temperament, experiences – yet on a level deep beneath the skin we “get” each other. The love and respect inherent in these friendships with my kindred spirits is such a gift – one that I rely on heavily in difficult times. Sometimes, it is hard not to take them for granted due to the ease and natural fit of our friendship. I need to remember that my friends and family are people to treat with true appreciation on a daily basis, as that is how often they lighten the burden and increase my joy in life.


Sunshine: It is March. In Iowa. Every moment of sunshine is a little miracle that needs to be appreciated.


Serendipity: It just so happened that I arrived at the Merritt Island Bird Sanctuary on the morning after something or someone had trashed the bird feeders next to the observation deck, spilling the bird seed on the ground and offering a veritable feast for a variety of species. Including these painted buntings – which the volunteer at the sanctuary informed us were a rare sight. Another example of serendipity: my friend Wendy gave me a gift certificate for a 60-minute massage (she gave it to me for my birthday in July). I realized several weeks ago that the certificate expired at the end of March, and scheduled the first available evening appointment – which was last night. Not knowing, at the time I scheduled the appointment, what would be happening this week, the massage could not have come at a better time. Appreciating these moments when the confluence of events creates just the right and needed experience to salve my soul is an important form of gratitude. These are the moments that remind me that all good things come as gift and grace, rather than through my own deserving.


Simple Silliness: I tend toward the serious most days. My work involves people and their life issues, which are serious business. When moments arrive which allow the freedom of letting go of all that seriousness, it is a big deal to let go and relax into them. I love that Mike captured this photo of me engaging, with silly abandon, in a misguided attempt to make a snow angel on the hard, crusted snow covering Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis a few weeks ago.

So, there are six things that I tend to take for granted which are richly deserving of gratitude. There are many more – education, clean water, fresh air, family – the list may, in fact, be endless. Endless, because I suspect the truth is that gratitude should be the center from which I live into each moment of this precious life I’ve been given. Each moment experienced as gift – I wonder how that would change my perceptions? My interactions? My creativity and flexibility when faced with life’s challenging and emotionally depleting days? What if I could also add my own imperfections to the list of items I am grateful for? Wow, that would likely be a game-changer. Imagine saying, “Thank you for my fear.” “Thank you for my confusion.” “Thank you for my flawed nature.” Hmmm. That, my friends, may be fodder for another post!

Note: I invite you to share in the comments some thing(s) you take for granted but would like to be grateful for – I would love to hear your thoughts!

9 thoughts on “The Very Things

  1. Do you remember an RA training exercise in which we had to share something that no one in the room knew about us on a piece of paper and the others in the room had to guess who said it? I believe it then went on the back of a shirt, actually… Anyway, I remember that the thing I shared was that when I say prayers of thankfulness, I sometimes thank God for chapstick and carpet. These are little things, but important to be tahnkful for, none the less!

    Great post, Jen – as always!

    1. Allison, I absolutely remember the activity AND the t-shirts 🙂

      Little things can sometimes make or break our mood for the day…or for a few minutes at least!

  2. Bicycles. When they didn’t exist, they seem unlikely. Why try to balance and ride on two wheels?

  3. I wake up every day and get out of bed on my own…this is something I take for granted. I take for granted the fact that I can get out of bed, that I have all of my limbs, that I have my sight, that I have a bed, a house, a blanket. I take for granted the ease at which I get out bed (relatively speaking).
    When I get to work, I take for granted I have a job, an income, a place to go during the day that keeps my mind working, that I have coworkers, a window with light, a computer screen I can see.
    I could go on and on. But one thing I think is important is that we don’t beat ourselves up for taking these things for granted. We live the life we know. And our struggles are just as real to us as other people’s struggles are to them.

    1. Beautiful reflection, Natalie! I love the point about not beating ourselves up for taking these things for granted – thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

  4. I desparately needed to read this today! I woke up exhausted and achy.. It hurts to move let alone think about doing a good job at anything today. But the things that are wearing me out are also the things that challenge me, push me and allow me to grow. I may be wiped out but I’m not bored or stagnant. I cab appreciate the exhaustion when i realize its a result of really living… not just watching from the sidelines! Thanks for helping me re-frame.

    1. I’m glad this post arrived at a time when you needed to hear what it said. I love when that happens for me – I’ve heard from several friends that they feel that way about your blog, Monkey! We don’t know when what we have to share from our own experiences will be useful to someone else – a powerful reason to keep sharing 🙂

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