Meditations from a Movable Chair

“I Sing in Gratitude for Loving This”: Words That Changed Me

Happy Thanksgiving! Celebrating holidays far from home is one of the hardest parts of expat life, but this year I am so thankful for friends who are like family and for the opportunity to participate in three separate Thanksgiving celebrations over the next few days. I also wanted to say that I am humbled and thankful for the kindness many of you have shown over the past few weeks here in the blogosphere. You have inspired me.

Every Thanksgiving for the past few years I’ve shared this passage from Andre Dubus’ essay “A Country Road Song.” It is one of the most beautiful and moving pieces I’ve ever read. At the age of 49, Dubus suffered a devastating injury when he stopped on the side of the road to assist with a fatal automobile accident. While pulling the survivor out of the wreckage, he was hit by another car. He was injured so badly that he eventually lost one of his legs and was paralyzed in the other. Dubus wrote about the consequences of his accident in many of his essays, but this particular one is about his memories of running.  I cry every time I read it because it overwhelms me that a man could feel and express this kind of intense gratitude in the face of such incredible and seemingly senseless loss.  If you have a chance, you should read the entire essay because it is so much better than just this excerpt. I share this again today because it has changed me and because I hope it might also be meaningful to you.

“When I ran, when I walked, there was no time: there was only my body, my breath, the trees and hills and sky…I always felt grateful, but I did not know it was gratitude and so I never thanked God. Eight years ago, on a starlight night in July, a car hit me…and in September a surgeon cut off my left leg… It is now time to sing of my gratitude: for legs and hills and trees and seasons…I mourn this, and I sing in gratitude for loving this, and in gratitude for all the roads I ran on and walked on, for the hills I climbed and descended, for trees and grass and sky, and for being spared losing running and walking sooner than I did: ten years sooner, or eight seasons, or three; or one day.”

Dubus

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Andre Dubus, “A Country Road Song,” Meditations from a Movable Chair”

I Sing of Gratitude (Reprise)

In honor of both Thanksgiving and (I guess) Throw-back-Thursday, I re-visited a cute little something I wrote back when I was 23 and a baby and a newlywed. I’ve changed a lot from the person I was then, but I like being reminded of her from time to time. Bless her heart. (If you are not an American from the South, this is our way of saying, “What a darling little idiot,” in the sweetest voice imaginable).

In this case, I think cute little me actually made some good points. In my original post, I wrote about discovering that gratitude is  key in marriage. It’s been three years since I wrote that, but I still think it’s true and I am still glad that we are intentional about expressing gratitude every day, even for the routine things like making the bed, doing the dishes, and taking out the trash. More importantly though, in that post I shared a passage that is still one of the most moving things I have ever read about gratitude and I think it’s worth sharing again, today of all days.

In college I read an essay called “A Country Road Song” by Andre Dubus from his collection, Meditations from a Movable Chair. It is one of the most beautiful and moving pieces I’ve ever read. At the age of 49, Dubus suffered a devastating injury when he stopped on the side of the road to assist with a fatal accident. While pulling the survivor out of the way, he was hit by another car. He was injured so badly that he eventually lost one of his legs and was paralyzed in the other. Dubus wrote about the consequences of his accident in many of his essays, but this particular one is about his memories of running.  I cry every time I read it because it overwhelms me that a man could feel and express this kind of intense gratitude in the face of such incredible loss. If you have a chance, you should read the entire essay because it is so much better than just this small portion. But for now, read this and let it change your idea of gratitude the way it’s changed mine.

” When I ran, when I walked, there was no time: there was only my body, my breath, the trees and hills and sky…I always felt grateful, but I did not know it was gratitude and so I never thanked God. Eight years ago, on a starlight night in July, a car hit me…and in September a surgeon cut off my left leg… It is now time to sing of my gratitude: for legs and hills and trees and seasons…I mourn this, and I sing in gratitude for loving this, and in gratitude for all the roads I ran on and walked on, for the hills I climbed and descended, for trees and grass and sky, and for being spared losing running and walking sooner than I did: ten years sooner, or eight seasons, or three; or one day.”

“I sing of my gratitude…for being spared losing running and walking sooner than I did: ten years sooner, or eight seasons, or three; or one day.”

I Sing of Gratitude

Today I am celebrating.  The sun is shining, the breeze is gentle, the daffodils popping up everywhere and as of today, I have been married to the most wonderful man in the world for ten months.  Amazing.

People are always saying that the first year of marriage is the hardest…if that’s true then we are going to have the easiest life ever. : ) I credit Jonathan greatly for the easiness of our transition into marriage. His graciousness, his ability to let go of things quickly, and his willingness to be flexible have made what were potentially dozens of conflicts into just a handful.  After almost a year, we still enjoy being together, we fight less than we did before we were married, and we laugh all the time.

I don’t and will not ever pretend that we have a perfect marriage or that we know how to do everything just right, but I do recognize some things that we are doing right and I think it’s worthwhile to look at something and say, “This is good.” The thing that stands out to me the most as I reflect on our married life is an attitude of thankfulness.

Without having ever discussed it or made a collective decision to do so, we thank each other all the time. Even for the tiniest, most insignificant things we do as a matter of routine. Thank you for making the bed this morning. Thank you for making dinner. Thank you for unloading the dishwasher. Thank you for cleaning the litter box. Thank you for hanging up my coat. Even if I’m not at home, I’ll get a text that says, “Thanks for doing the laundry yesterday!”

All this thanking might seem silly or a bit like overkill, but I think it makes a world of difference in our attitudes toward each other. When I feel appreciated for the things I do, even the everyday mundane things, I don’t resent doing them. And I’m not saying it never happens, but it’s hard to be frustrated or irritated with someone when you are in the habit focusing on the ways that they bless you. When you truly see each other as a gift, you are so much more willing to put in the hard work of communicating, compromising, and showing love unconditionally.

As I’ve been thinking about what thankfulness means in my marriage, I’ve also started to think more about what it means for the rest of my life. Or, I suppose more accurately, what it could mean. If a spirit of gratitude in my marriage has made these last ten months so overwhelmingly joyful, what could the rest of my life look like if I looked at it from the perspective of thankfulness? If I stopped resenting the fact that I have to play with small children for 8 hrs a day , the fact that I can’t eat whatever I want without consequences, or the fact that I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

Several years ago I read an essay called “A Country Road Song” by Andre Dubus from his collection, Meditations from a Movable Chair. It is one of the most beautiful and moving pieces I’ve ever read and it deals directly with this theme of gratefulness.  A little background on Dubus (note, this Andre Dubus I, not Andre Dubus II his son who is also a writer)–he grew up in Lafayette, LA, my hometown (woo-hoo!) but lived much of his later life in Massachusetts. One evening when Dubus was 49 years old, he stopped on the side of the road to help a man and woman having car trouble. Another motorist swerved and hit them, killing the other man and crushing both of Dubus’ legs. He later had his left leg amputated and lost all use of his right leg. Dubus had been an avid runner before his accident. This essay is primarily about his memories of running through all the different seasons. I wish you could read the entire essay, but I’ll try to choose the best passages.

” When I ran, when I walked, there was no time: there was only my body, my breath, the trees and hills and sky…I always felt grateful, but I did not know it was gratitude and so I never thanked God. Eight years ago, on a starlight night in July, a car hit me…and in September a surgeon cut off my left leg… It is now time to sing of my gratitude:for legs and hills and trees and seasons…I mourn this, and I sing in gratitude for loving this, and in gratitude for all the roads I ran on and walked on, for the hills I climbed and descended, for trees and grass and sky, and for being spared losing running and walking sooner than I did: ten years sooner, or eight seasons, or three; or one day.”

I cry everytime I read this because it overwhelms me that a man could feel and express this intense gratitude in the very face of such incredible loss. What would my life look like if I understood what this man did? What would this world look like if we chose gratitude over resentment and joy over sorrow? It literally takes my breath away to imagine.