his may date me a bit. Every now and then, when I choose to feel overwhelmed with work, family, bills and other mid-life adult responsibilities that drain one’s energy if left unchecked, gratitude is the last thing on my mind. I suspect the same goes for you.
But I’ve learned during my nearly 54 years on this rock that if I don’t choose to keep gratitude as a living principle in my life — and also because Oprah said I should — anxiety, not inner peace, rules my day. All of which, of course, makes it tough to genuinely smile. For help, I turn to a collection of inspiring quotes that yank me out of my pity party, and get me back on the gratitude track.
The term “collection” is an understatement. I have hundreds of these quotes that I’ve gathered like a squirrel with nuts since the mid-1990s. I’m still gathering them, which suggests, I suppose, that I’m a regular pity party attendee — and need all the help I can get. I have so many favorites, but here are a few that remind me to put gratitude front and center in my life:
“We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” —Carlos Castenada
“Worry is nothing less than the misuse of your imagination.” —Ed Foreman
“I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” —Mark Twain
“When the thumb of fear lifts, we are so alive.” —Mary Oliver
Sometimes, though, before I have a chance to flip through my Rolodex of quotes, searching for just the right words to resuscitate my airless gratitude, a sublime moment comes along that lifts my “thumb of fear” in a most astonishing and enduring way. Two such moments happened to me recently, and I haven’t felt the same since.
The first occurred a couple of weeks ago in a most unexpected place: Interstate 80 between Black Rock and Lake Point’s Exit 99. To me, that two-mile ribbon of straight concrete offers one of Utah’s — and even America’s — most dramatic roadside views. To the right is the southern shore of the enigmatic Great Salt Lake, and Stansbury Island on the northwestern horizon. To the left, the Oquirrh Mountain Range explodes upward from the lake’s shoreline in a turbulent display of Earth’s inner hydraulics. It’s Tooele County’s own version of the Grand Canyon.
But what lies ahead is even more compelling. Filling the windshield from end-to-end is the Stansbury Mountains, one of the county’s most prodigious ranges with its 11,031-foot-high Deseret Peak.
During that cathartic first moment on I-80, I was driving westbound just a few minutes before sunrise. The air that morning was exceptionally crisp and clear. Across my windshield were the Stansburys, awash in soft twilight — but also backlit from behind. A full moon hung low in the sky directly above North Willow Canyon. The moon appeared so big, so close, it looked like I could open my side window, reach around and touch it.
Although romanticists, including my wife of 32 years, think the moon is endlessly charming, its stark, gray flight against a black sky always reminds me of that 1970s rock song hit, “Nights in White Satin” by the Moody Blues. So how did the lyrics go at the song’s ending before the gong?
“Cold hearted Orb that rules the night. Removes the colors from our sight. Red is gray and yellow is white. But we decide which is right, and which is an illusion.”
But this time, I saw the moon differently. Perhaps it was the stark clarity, or the impressive agreement of light and shape it presented over the Stansbury’s that got me to shift my thinking. Staring at it through the windshield, I remembered reading somewhere that if it weren’t for the moon, life likely wouldn’t exist on Earth. In fact, it may never have evolved.
According to scientists, the moon’s gravitational pull and orbit around our world does more than cause ocean tides. It keeps the north and south poles in place, and stops the Earth from literally tumbling as it flies at 66,000 miles per hour on its one-year, 578 million-mile journey around the sun. It also maintains the Earth’s 23-1/2 degree tilt, causing seasonal changes between the northern and southern hemispheres. Thanks to that tilt, we have fresh, red apples in September, and birds migrating home to nest in spring.
Now that’s something to be truly grateful for. And so is this second moment that I experienced. Like I-80 and the moon, it occurred in an unexpected place.
Until last week, I had never heard of Susan Spencer Wood. But thankfully, now I have, because she lived an extraordinary life abundant in gratitude, and wrote about it. She died on April 28, but before doing so, perhaps in great discomfort from a terminal illness, she wrote her own obituary. To me, it stands as a tribute to a life lived in genuine gratitude. Perhaps you saw her obituary, too, in the Salt Lake papers. But if you didn’t, this is what she said.
“This is a love letter … to let you know that I have taken a ride on the wind. What a breath-taking reality! It wasn’t my choice. I would write 100 love letters a day if I could just stay. But, truly, I feel as gorgeous, happy and blessed as I have ever been in my life. The quality of love, loyalty and amazing grace I have known is bountiful. And I thank you.
“I was born in summer, a farmer’s daughter, forever indebted to the unceasing grace of my father, Que, and my mother, Lucy. I have the perfect family for me. Where and when I met Dwight will always be in my memory. I never expected an ordinary day to be so significant. But isn’t that just the way of ordinary days?
“I loved my career. I loved my co-workers, all of you. The relationships we had, the great joy we shared, the creativity we brought to our tasks, and the good things we accomplished together, remain meaningful to me. The love and friendship I’ve known is utmost in my heart. I know I am loved by precious nieces and nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters I won and some that I earned. I am loved by a myriad of friends. Most essentially, my Dwight loves me. Thank you for holding me, protecting me, seeing me, touching me, and honoring me with your days.
“I have loved Mozart and Elton John. I love poetry, Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party,” opera and a sweet country waltz. I love lemons, walnuts and a good cup of tea. I love Hawthorne blossoms and a Peace Rose in full bloom. I love springtime in New York and summer sunsets in Ennis, MT.
“I leave behind a hallowed piece of ground on the Weber River, and my country home of Spring Lake. I ask you to comfort my brothers… And, please, put your arms firmly around Dwight.
“I spent my life trying to embrace and uplift people. To those with whom I spent my time: Who you are is important to me. I cherish all you have helped me to learn. Perhaps you didn’t realize. Please realize now and pass it on. Be impractical and generous. Touch a stranger’s hand; cultivate the art of surprise and whimsy. Most importantly, excite and inspire the young ones with love learned from an array of experiences, places and people.
“I ask only this: Please gather together in joy. Remember me as you desire in the loving, diverse circles that surround you. Sing and laugh. Celebrate and dance. Raise a glass to me and to this delicious life. It is so very lovely.”
Along with her obituary, was a spunky little portrait of her. Her big grin and cheerful eyes said it all. Thank you, Susan Spencer Wood, for being my teacher today.
It’s remarkable how gratitude, that vital human emotion we desperately need to ease our anxious lives, but so often choose to neglect, can unexpectedly emerge from the white noise of our day, and if for only a moment, fill us with heartfelt thankfulness and clarity.
I raise a glass to those moments. I look forward to many more.