On Gratitude, A Guy Named Jerry and a Dog Named Sandy

Earlier this week I let a slight jab in the gut become a huge kick in the b*lls. What definitely should have hurt a little, disabled me for a day. Maybe more. I hated that I lost two days because I couldn’t handle what amounts to a hiccup. A hurdle. I lost my sense of gratitude. I want to be more evolved than that. I expect to be more evolved than that. I NEED to be more evolved than that.

Fortunately, as the week moved beyond Monday’s jab in the ribs, I found my way through the anxiety and lack of gratitude. Wednesday and Thursday were filled with incredible events and experiences. They were days full of music, adventure, sweat, creativity and inspiration. Whatever darkness I was feeling was replaced by the excited potential of, “You know what we could do…” And then a list of crazy, outlandish, wonderfully impossible ideas flowed.

By yesterday, my gratitude had returned in full force. And what I realized I’m most grateful for is the ability to find gratitude in things that used to set me off into some kind of dark, dark space. Sometimes this makes me feel as though I’m being a bit of a Pollyanna (or make those around me think that). Fake. But I’m not. I’m not simply finding silver linings. The truth is I need to be positive. I have to be able say, “Bummer,” take a moment and move on with the positive, more optimistic feeling.

Because, the deeper truth is that I’m often in a constant battle with this darkness. A friend of mine was shocked when I told him about this. As he finished telling me about a time long ago when he felt suicidal, I took a deep breath, and unable to even look him in the eye, said, “Everyday, dude.” He was surprised to learn that I don’t naturally see the world through rose-colored glasses. From a happy place. I have to work hard at it. Just as it’s easy and feels way more natural for me to eat crappy food (and get fat!), my natural state is one filled with fear, doubt, blame and a maybe even lack of gratitude. But, despite how easy and natural it feels, I don’t like being fat. And I don’t like feeling scared. I don’t like blaming others. I REALLY hate feeling ungrateful. The fact is that optimism and gratitude, like eating healthy, are good for my health. They’re about survival. (This is why it’s especially important for me to spend time around positive, inspirational influences.)

Then this morning, on the heels of this conversation with my friend, came another reminder about the very best that life has to offer. As I took Harley on our usual walk, we encountered Jerry. We often encounter Jerry. For the first couple of years, we’d run into Jerry and his Aussie-mix named Bear. Bear and Harley were pretty much exactly the same age and because of their Aussie heritage were distant cousins. About six months ago, we started to only run into Jerry, as Bear had become sick and had to be put down. I was heartbroken. Harley was heartbroken. But obviously, Jerry was especially heartbroken. He still smiled, but it was a broken version of his old smile.

I only know Jerry from these walks. He’s probably in his late 50’s or early 60’s. He’s thin, average height and has the look of an old hippie with a white beard and longer than average hair – especially for an older dude. He’s a fun looking guy. Sometimes he wears a hat that’s somewhere between cowboy and fedora. And he always wears one of those puffy vests that have come back in style (though I suspect he wore his even when they were out of style). He loves his music, and while Bear and Harley used to play, we had discussions about the Grateful Dead, southern rock and Stevie Ray Vaughan. I even invited him to a show once.

After Bear died, Jerry continued to take his walks. Harley would see him and start “talking,” as he pulled me up the sidewalk. On most occasions, I just dropped the leash and let Harley have his moment with Jerry. Or maybe it was to let Jerry have that moment. Yes, Jerry still carried treats with him, but Harley genuinely loved him – with or without food. And Jerry always thanked me for letting him spend that minute or two with Harley. A good guy.

This morning, we encountered Jerry. Today, his smile was again brighter. Jerry has a new dog, a golden retriever named Sandy. He said that he got her about a week ago. Jerry was so proud to show her off and Harley gave her his official greeting (and requisite “background check”).

As I walked away from Jerry and Sandy, I found myself talking to Harley. “I’m so happy for Jerry,” I told him. Harley looked up at me with the human-like understanding and look that often makes me believe he was a kind soul in a past life. If I had kept talking to Harley, I would have said, “We must be grateful for experiences like that, Harley. We must remember the look in Jerry’s eyes and the smile on his face. It’s that smile that and those experiences that we need to remember when we get the punch in the gut.” Then to myself, I thought, “Darkness, be damned.” I felt light. I felt bright. I took off my sunglasses and let the sun burst through my eyelids.

We need to whine. We need to vent. We need to have the bitch sessions. There are things that just go wrong. There are things we need to get off our chests. Things that make us want to scream, F*CK! as loudly as we can. Repeatedly. We’re going to get jabbed in the ribs. We’re going to get kicked in the b*lls. It happens. It’s always going to happen. Just own it. Don’t lose the gratitude. I need to get so much better at that. Gratitude for me is a big, bright light that keeps me out of the shadows. I can’t always stay out of them, but gratitude certainly helps me to keep chasing the light.

Thank you, Jerry. Rock on. Hope to see you and Sandy tomorrow.

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