When things are going well, it’s easy to take for granted all of the unfortunate events that didn’t happen.
My friend Donna had an interesting experience awhile ago—she compared it to winning the lottery. She was so touched by this experience that she mentioned how grateful she was for things she normally takes for granted every day: water, trees, electricity, and more. So what kind of extraordinary good fortune came Donna’s way? Why was she feeling so grateful, so lucky? Here’s what happened: nothing happened.
You see, Donna lives near Vero Beach, Florida, and a hurricane was heading in her direction. She and her husband did everything they could to prepare for the storm—for 90 mph winds and drenching rains. But nothing happened. A few gusts of wind—some intermittent rain. That was it. That’s why Donna felt like she won the lottery. Nothing happened.
When was the last time you felt grateful because nothing happened? Nobody crashed into your car on the way home from work. The electricity didn’t go out. You didn’t wake up with a toothache. You didn’t have a heart attack. Nobody shot at you or robbed your home while you were gone.
But when you expect to die or you expect your home to be destroyed, “nothing happened” is a miracle.
There are people who are living in war zones at this very moment. Just look at the news and you can find those areas on a map. Many of those people are very aware at the end of the day that nobody in their family was killed and their home wasn’t destroyed by a bomb or hand grenade. Because they live with that awareness every day, they also are aware when nothing happens to hurt them.
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance your life is relatively safe—so safe that safety isn’t on your mind. So when nothing happens, you don’t feel particularly grateful. You expect to be safe, just as you expect the light to go on when you hit the switch on the wall. But when you expect to die or you expect your home to be destroyed, “nothing happened” is a miracle.
My friend Donna, described it like this:
“The extraordinary thing about this hurricane is that everyone knew it was coming. For days, the weather channels tracked the hurricane moving up the eastern seaboard and predicting where it would turn west and hit land. Generally we don’t get much advance warning with natural disasters like earthquakes or tornados. So tens of millions of people watched and waited. And the force of the hurricane destroyed homes, turned cars into boats, and, in some cases, took lives. But for millions of people, “nothing happened.” We sat safely in our homes and watched the gusts of wind and listened to the rain on our roofs while we read a book and checked our email. And many of us experienced a sincere and authentic moment of gratefulness. We were worried, anxious, even fearful. And nothing happened.”
So here’s our challenge: to allow our hearts and minds to be touched by gratitude without the presence of a hurricane. To appreciate life and the grace by which we wake up each day and go to sleep in safety. To recognize that our personal safety is a gift and something we have little control over. We may survive a hurricane and have a heart attack the next day. Our lives are all hanging by a thread. It makes us nervous to think about it, so we try not to. But that thread has held us up since we were born. And once in a while it’s good to notice it so we can be thankful for it.
A celebration of the fact that despite all of our problems and aches and pains and financial challenges and relationship conflicts we’re alive and we’re breathing and at the moment, we’re safe.
“Nothing happened” isn’t particularly exciting. It’s not as entertaining as a good movie. It’s not intellectually challenging, nor is it adorable like a baby kitten. But when you expect the worst and nothing happens, it’s worthy of celebration. A celebration of the fact that despite all of our problems and aches and pains and financial challenges and relationship conflicts we’re alive and we’re breathing and at the moment, we’re safe.
So take a moment and sit back. And breathe in “nothing happened.” And breathe out a breath of thanks. Gratitude for just being able to breathe. Now that’s really something!
Please log in or Create a Profile to post a comment.
Dear Gregg, Thank you for this beautiful invitation to notice and appreciate all that can go wrong in our days and lives but does not! Here in New Mexico where I am spending the summer, there are a lot of strikingly beautiful crosses (descansos) by the sides of roads and highways. These very colorful roadside memorials are always an impactful sight for me, reminding me to stay alert to the cars and lives around me, to not take my or their safety for granted. In 2009, I lost control of my car on a highway, and did two and a half 360s before crashing into the guard rail. For weeks afterwards, I was in an altered state, and nothing could undermine the profound gratitude I was experiencing for being still alive, completely uninjured… and for the fact that I miraculously did not harm any other cars as mine went spinning across both lanes. But that feeling wore off with the months and years, and I am realizing today that the challenge of returning to that place of profound gratitude for life, without the accident (or the hurricane!) is a challenge I really wish to take on.
Wow, Tesa, to be completely uninjured and not harming any other cars in your accident was truly miraculous! So glad you are still here with us!? Thank-you for sharing your story!
Blessings, Sheila ?
That’s an amazing story you shared about your car accident. And to survive without any serious injury — incredible! I had a bike accident 2 years ago where I landed on my head with such force that a big chunk of my helmet broke off. I had the same kind of experience — like walking around in a daze and just appreciating everyone and everything. The “altered state” wore off, but we can still rekindle our appreciation for life just be remembering how close we came to the end of life. The journal that I edit is called Thirty Thousand Days. It’s the average number of days we have to live. I actually check my number of “days left” regularly and it is a sobering experience to watch the number get smaller. But rather than being a morbid exercise, I find that it inspires me to engage fully with life and appreciate my time and connections to other people. Best wishes.
Whenever I travel by plane, I am grateful for a boring flight. If I arrive on time at the airport, I am able to get through security at the airport without any hassle, the passengers on board are all pleasant, there’s no turbulence, an engine doesn’t catch on fire, and we have a smooth landing, I am grateful for that boring flight.
I sincerely hope that you and your community are spared from any hurricane visits this season. But there will be hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, tornadoes and other natural disasters throughout the foreseeable future. When our bodies are threatened by disease our immune systems mobilize and make an effort to help us recover our health. This often happens when there is a natural disaster. The world’s immune system — the compassion of its inhabitants — mobilizes to help us. So even when something challenging or threatening does happen, we can step back and appreciate how the world is trying to rescue us or help us overcome our difficulties.
But for the time being, I hope you enjoy many, many hurricane-free days!
Gregg, I truly relate to your beautiful essay, thank-you for your sharing! I have found that when I am grateful for things that did not happen, it can so lift my mood! All the times I was distracted while driving and looked up just in time to avoid hitting a car in front of me, I worked as a nurse for 36 years and nothing “extreme” ever happened with a patient and I was never sued, my parents could stay at home until shortly before they died and never had to go to a Nursing Home. The list could go on and on! By the Grace of God I am here and safe! I am blessed in abundance!
Peace, Sheila ?
Thanks for your comment. We invest so much of our time and energy in trying to change the actual circumstances of our lives. Yet how we actually see our lives — whether we appreciate what we have or complain about what we don’t have — is the more significant determinant of whether we live gratefully or descend into a complaint-based life. Your comment, “By the Grace of God I am here and safe” is true for many of us. And to go one step further . . . “by the Grace of God, I am able to recognize the Grace of God.”
Thank-you for connecting, Gregg and also for sharing the comment, ” by the Grace of God, I am able to recognize the Grace of God.” I love that!
Dear Sheila – my daughter is a nurse. And, one of my fondest memories in my whole life is of a nurse who took care of me in the hospital when I was 7 and had pneumonia. She had the most tender heart and I can still see her in my mind’s eye. Many blessings to you for your 36 years of caring for others. You are blessed with abundance for all that you did for others as a nurse. Peace to you, Sheila ❤️
Dear Nancy, what a beautiful reply! It touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes! Thank-you from my ❤! I am sure your daughter is a very caring nurse as you are a very caring person with your kind sentiments!
Bless you dear Nancy, Sheila
Dear Sheila – yes my daughter is a wonderful nurse and loves the work she does. Today is her 40th birthday as well. Many years ago while working in a hospital, I was passing through the Cancer floor and outside a patient’s room was a poem this patient had posted after a very difficult night of struggling with final stages of Leukemia. It was titled The Angels in White ❤️