In the depths of my sadness, I still knew that my life is, and always has been, a gift. Despite losing everything, I am grateful.
Ever since my son was in high school, and people asked how he was, he would answer, “Content.” I thought it was an interesting response for a teenage boy and, in a way, I thought it was a “cop out.” With time, however, I grew to respect his response and pause in awe. When my mom was living she, too, thought it was an interesting way to respond and we would discuss its uniqueness. To this day, as a young adult, he still replies, “Content.”
As my son continues to mature, I continue to grow in understanding him and I see that his “Content” response describes his essence. I’ve learned that when we are content we are happy and grateful for what we have and we don’t need more. I strive to achieve my son’s level of contentment.
While exploring what it means to be content I’ve been pondering when I first became aware of gratitude. I’m hard pressed to identify a time frame. As a child I had good manners and appreciated what I had in life but I cannot recall early grateful learning lessons. I was a farm girl. I was grateful for nature, the sun, stars, grass, and all the beauty around me. We made our own food. I recall special times when mom would buy bakery cinnamon rolls. I was happy but I’m not sure I felt gratitude. Mom made delicious cinnamon rolls herself, but for some reason when the bakery truck drove up the driveway and mom bought those rolls, I was pleased.
Today, I live each day filled with gratitude.
Today, I live each day filled with gratitude. Much of it comes from being a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist and our practices of interconnectedness, wisdom, compassion, and gratitude. About 100 times a day, I say “I am grateful – truly grateful.”
This has not always been the case. As a single mom, I often felt vulnerable but I knew as long as I had my mom and/or dad I would be OK. Looking back now, I realize how grateful I was for my family. I hope they recognized the gratitude I felt for them. For some reason, I had a fear of being homeless but I always knew that, as long as I had my parents, I would be OK. I no longer have my parents but I have my son and I still feel that I will be OK.
A few years ago, I bought my first house. It was beautiful. Nicely decorated and graced with five generations of family antiques and artifacts. I loved my house and spent a lot of time and money making it into a special home.
All our possessions were destroyed by fire, smoke, water, and fire-fighting chemicals. I was the family historian and it was difficult to lose family records and history and my son’s early art.
On October 10, 2016, we had a house fire and lost 95% of what we had – including our two dogs. Our house was brick so it did not burn down but needs to be rebuilt. All our possessions were destroyed by fire, smoke, water, and fire-fighting chemicals. I was the family historian and it was difficult to lose family records and history and my son’s early art.
The Red Cross was with us throughout the entire event – providing blankets and security. During the fire, they were constantly making sure that we were OK. When the fire was over, they provided us with vouchers and gift-cards for housing, food, shelter, and medicines.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, identifying food and shelter as our most basic needs, became evident. When left with only the clothes on my back it was apparent that so much of what we take for granted in life is icing on the cake.
In the depths of my sadness, I still knew that my life is, and always has been, a gift. Despite losing everything, I am grateful. I have had a good life compared to most people in the world – past, present…and future. Many people have experienced horrific wars; some don’t have running water or shoes, or know the glory of heat in the winter. Thousands have been displaced by natural disasters.
I have to admit that, after the fire, I thought my fear of being homeless had become a reality. However, now I understand that my current displacement is a loss of realities more than anything else and that, with time, new realities will replace the old ones.
One replied, “Yes, it was hard (long pause) but we lived – Jews were killed.” Her response made it clear that her Buddhist roots of gratitude ran incredibly deep.
Since the fire, a variety of people have supported and cared for us. Some support comes from Japanese-American Nisei from our temple; a population of people stripped of their identities, possessions, and forced to live in internment camps during WW II. I remember sharing with them that I looked to them as my sheroes and heroes. One replied, “Yes, it was hard (long pause) but we lived – Jews were killed.” Her response made it clear that her Buddhist roots of gratitude ran incredibly deep.
I know we appreciate firefighters and others who come to our rescue during emergencies. What these men and women do – coming to our homes – saving us – our pets – and our things, is truly remarkable. Every day they put their lives at risk by entering burning buildings – exposing themselves to dangers from chemicals, flames, soot, etc.– to help us. It is beyond incredible. They don’t seek honor or glory but they deserve it.
Now, when I hear a siren I am sad knowing that someone may be in harm’s way, but I am also grateful knowing that these men and women are on their way to “take care of things.” They are remarkable and I am truly grateful.
Through this traumatic event in my life, I find myself even more grateful than prior to the fire. I have learned so much about life that I would never have learned otherwise. And I have come closer to a life of true contentment.
Cynthia Mee is a professor of education, writer, author, novice poet, and child advocate. Her interests are focused on equity, young adolescent voices, and voices of Nisei regarding their education experiences in the incarceration camps during WW II. She loves to ponder, reflect, and to connect to the power of gratitude, joy, and awe. She is a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist and is a Minister’s Assistant.
We invite you to share a story about yourself or another person, reflecting on the question: “How has gratefulness shifted a moment, an experience, or a lifetime?”