Thursday, November 25, 2010


I haven’t been in a very thankful mood lately. I’ve been wrestling with the concept of blessings and the implication that they’re the result of things people do to win favor with God/fate/whatev, which is rampant in our culture. Usually when I ponder this topic, it’s from the over-blessed end of the spectrum. What did I do to deserve all this? The answer is, categorically, not much.

But lately I’ve been feeling under-blessed—I’m not getting what I want—and it’s periodically turned me into a sad, desperate mess or a petty, competitive bitch, depending on the day. And worst of all, the same little voice that hopes maybe I did do something to deserve all the good stuff now wonders what I did to fuck up my chances of more good stuff. Knowing this is bullshit only helps a little.

I’ve been really mean to myself, feeling too exhausted to indulge in the stuff that makes me happy on a deep level (writing, exercise) and denying myself the shallower indulgences that can be cheap fixes (a haircut, frozen yogurt with circus animal cookies as topping—two desserts, but you can call it one!). I’ve been hard at work punishing myself for things I have no control over because of some deeply ingrained belief that life operates on the merit system.

Maybe I should pause a moment to add that, most embarrassingly of all, I have not been dealt some terrible hand by fate. My not getting what I want is the blandest, most common bump in a well-maintained road. But I see people around me getting what they want, getting what I want, and I feel hugely, helplessly, unabashedly covetous. Or rather, I’m quite abashed, but the helplessness overrides my shame.

I actually logged on thinking I’d write one moody little paragraph and follow it up with a lighthearted list of things I’m thankful for, such as frozen yogurt with circus animal cookies as topping. But mood trumps gratitude, apparently.

Is it possible to be thankful for blessings you know you don’t deserve (even if you know you don’t not deserve them either)? Can you be thankful even if you believe that life is a big fat lotto and whatever you get or don’t is pretty much random? If you believe that there is a God, but she/he doesn’t see us as separate enough to carefully make sure we all get the same number of presents under the tree?

I guess what thankfulness does is empower you. When I’m feeling grateful and confident, I write, I exercise, I visit my mentee, I ask my friends how their days were, I remember to bring my reusable coffee cup, I (occasionally) write my congressperson. The false notion that I’m blessed—that there is such a thing—makes me a person who creates more blessings in the world. (Which is not to say that I think doing 20 minutes on the elliptical machine is a blessing to anyone. I mean, I guess it keeps the collective rates for my health insurance company low?)

I’m not sure where this leaves me. I want to say I’m going to try to be thankful for all that I have—and there is so, so much—and that this attitude will help me get what I want eventually. Except I don’t believe in that kind of cosmic math, and every time I think I’m on my way to a good attitude, I plummet back into the self-pity pit. Chances are, I’ll continue to agonize melodramatically for a while, then get what I want eventually, then feel sheepish about all my bad behavior (if also a little older and wiser), then go back to questioning why I have all this great stuff in my life. At least, I’m hoping that’s what will happen.


Tracy Lynn said...

I find that being grateful for things in my life allows me to not wallow in perceived injustices. The reality is that, if I had gotten what I deserved, I would be in jail or dead.
I think that life is a lotto, and the measure of who you are is determined by how you deal with what you get. Because I can't control what happens, but I can control how I deal with what happens.
That said, wallowing is something we all do on occasion. The key is to give yourself a set wallowing time, then get your ass busy doing something productive.
Love you, dude.

Cheryl said...

Thanks, TL. That was pretty much AK's advice too: wallow, wallow, wallow, distract, distract, distract. I can now check off part 1. Working on part 2.

Sometimes I feel just baaarely in control of how I deal with things, but I'm working on that too.

Happy Thankfulness Day, lady.

Claire said...

I get it. I've felt that way myself many a time. Despite my efforts, there seems to be little traction. But I don't think everything is totally out of my control or by chance: I just think I suck at and am unwilling to do the networking it takes to succeed.

Distraction is mighty helpful. And working out even if you don't feel like it.

I also try to remember that no matter how I judge my situation, I am rich compared to some ridiculous percentage of the world's population (80%?) by the very facts that I've got food, solid shelter, heat, indoor plumbing, and I know how to read. I'm thankful for that (when I remember it's noteworthy).

All my best, C.

Cheryl said...

C: Yes, some things are definitely in my control, just not enough for a control freak like me. And food/shelter/literacy/loved ones--always thankful. So thankful. But even lucky, thankful people need to vent now and then.

Claire said...

Oh, totally. I apologize if I came across overly self-righteous. I'd just been reading some great stories by Pamela Ribon about her recent trip to Guatemala to help with Project Cookstove. That and my own bout with self-loathing of late put my sentiments a bit on tilt.

Cheryl said...

No worries. Usually I'm of the think-about-Guatemala school, but I'm experimenting with extreme self-absorption. At the moment, it's working well for me. :-)