There are brief moments lately when I start to feel like I am returning to a normal routine after my son’s near miss with tragedy. He has also returned to his normal routines and is seemingly stronger than before. His recent fall feels more like a dream now and I am noticing how easy it is for the miracles that bless us to fade over time. The further I get from the experience, the more that I wonder about what happened, the more incredulous it seems that everything could just be as it was before. I want to hang onto the gratitude and faith that this experience has instilled in me. I want to learn to live with the intention of taking nothing for granted.
During these weeks I have also encountered many life stories that didn’t share the grace of near miss with mine. The story of the mother whose child died suddenly, the woman I sat next to on the plane whose child suffered severe autism after immunizations and the nurse whose husband died from a fall of the same height as my son. Tragedy, by contrast to the near miss, has a vice-like grip over reality that is inescapable even in our dreams. Life rarely finds its old routines after sustaining meaningful losses.
Before his untimely death, Robert Kennedy said, “Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live.” Finding the openhearted courage to let go of the life we thought was ours and the will to move forward with the gifts of love that were shared is a leap of epic proportions. Many people get stuck in their loss. It isn’t so much that they don’t trust life, as they don’t trust their own hearts to open to life. It is another kind of miracle to embrace the chrysalis of transformation that tragic loss demands.
Although we usually don’t look down to acknowledge the cracks under our feet, experiencing loss or even dancing at the edge of it makes you clear of how tenuous and fragile our life and relationships are. It makes every moment of health and loving connection precious. Hanging onto that clarity after a near miss or moving towards it after loss is the grace of making gratitude routine in life.
The mother I sat next to on the plane was telling me about the years of work to get her daughter verbal again. “Really, she is teaching me much more than I am teaching her…” she said. Instead of being bitter, she saw her daughter and her issues as a gift. This is the gratitude that lets life be what it is, and keeps our heart open to what it can become. Moving on after tragedy, not letting it be our guide but taking its wisdom into our next experience of love is the practice of routine gratitude.
This is a practice of retraining our eyes to see though our hearts. It hones the eyes to rest on beauty and acknowledge it, whether in changing fall colors or an exchange of affection of nearby strangers. It is a practice of letting go of the annoying aspects of relating and reaching to the core of what is lovable in your partner, kids, and neighbors.
It is a practice that filters every moment with the very real possibility that this is the last time you will ever see, speak, hear or love this person again. It trains you to take nothing for granted.