A Lesson in Gratitude

This week has been hell for me.

So I thought.

I’m exhausted, with my hands constantly filled with a little bundle of raw, urgent needs. There have been several days recently when I’ve felt at the absolute edge of my endurance. I can’t get any work done, since by the time my almost-3-month-old daughter naps, I’m too tired to do anything that society would deem ‘productive.’  I’ve felt stretched and overwhelmed, without time to myself or any choice about my daily activities.

When very tired, it’s hard for me to keep perspective. One of my worst faults, I think.

I’d forgotten about Gratitude entirely. Then She came knocking at my door to remind me. Well, okay, She came knocking through Google News.

Memo from Gratitude #1: You have more choice in your life than the vast majority of humanity (especially women) have ever had, since…ever.

A child bride, now 15, with her 6-month-old son.

I read a story on CNN.com about Child Marriage around the World. And was reminded of the fact that, thanks to the society that I was born into and the parents whom I was blessed with, I have always had choices. I’ve been able to choose who I dated (much to my Dad’s chagrin sometimes, I’m sure, but he’s careful with his words), if/when/who I married, where I traveled, what I wore, and what I studied in school. I was blessed to go to school as long as I wanted to, and to control when/if I had children. That last one right there, by the way, is a choice that so many girls (yes, GIRLS) around the world don’t have, it’s mind-numbing.

“Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the greatest cause of death and disability among girls 15 to 19.”  -CNN Story by Stephanie Sinclair.

This CNN story (where I got the above picture, by the way; full credit to photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair and all she does to bring this issue to light) was a reminder to me that I and the daughter whom I chose to bear have more choices and autonomy than most women in history. We control our reproductive rights (Though not much longer, if Republicans have their way. Yea, I said it.). We get to go to college- or not- as we choose. We can dress however we choose. We can work to support ourselves. We can chose our romantic partners without fear of death. I could go on, but you get my point. Next to this reminder, feeling tired from a new baby seems a bit easier to bear.

Memo from Gratitude #2: I have the opportunity and ability to improve myself or my circumstances any way I am willing to.

Normally, I’d insert some snarky joke here about improving myself with diamonds or something. But my joking mood fails me today.

I never in my life had to fight for my right to my education. In fact, my parents made damn sure I knew I was going to college. Period. They supported my getting an education and pretty much anything I’ve ever wanted to do.

I never had anyone tell me that I wasn’t worth educating because I’m a female. I never had to worry about having to drop out of school to care for children or start earning money to support my family. I never had to stand up to the possibility of death in order to learn to read.  This story out of Pakistan breaks my heart and lights a fire in my brain. Malala Yousafzai is a 14-year-old advocate for girls’ education in Pakistan. The Taliban didn’t like that, so they shot her. In the head. She’s alive, but brain-damaged. All she wanted was access to education- something deemed so radical and unnatural by some ignorant Taliban shmucks that they tried to kill her.

I can’t imagine being 14 and having the strength to stand up to some entrenched, ignorant, violent bigots who also happen to have access to AK-47s and, in most cases, free range to dispense ‘justice’ as the local, ball-less cowards see fit. I can’t imagine the courage it must take to stand up to the majority of your society and insist on something as basic as being allowed to learn to read. This girl’s courage and life (just half of my own life span so far) amaze and humble me. Next to that courage, what is a sleepless night? A fussy baby?

The list of things I’ve been able to decide in my life is looooooong. So long that, when compared to other women in the world, I am blasted out of my temporary misery and covered up in gratitude for what I have in this life. And what did I do differently from women in Africa or Pakistan? I was born American. That’s it. That’s the only difference from this life I have and a life totally controlled by circumstances or the men in my family.

Yes, my week has been hard. I’m tired and worn. But I have a husband who supports me, physically and emotionally. I am safe in my home (more safe than most women in, say, Pakistan or Yemen). I have a family that I can turn to if I need help. I have a post-secondary degree that I can use any time I see fit. I was able to give birth in a sanitary environment without the fear or likelihood that I or my daughter were going to die from some preventable disease.  My fridge has food, my car has gas, my body has clothes, and my heart has love.

So I look back at this week and all the mess, sleep deprivation, undone chores, worries, and choices, and I’m reminded by my Gratitude- not that it could be so much worse (though it certainly could)- but that I had forgotten how good it really is.

…and it is Good.