Friday, November 11, 2011

I Speak Gratitude

This month my students and I are on a quest to find one thing to be grateful for every day. Our aim? To see whether the spirits of people—even those grieving a loss—can be buoyed by being thankful for life’s gifts on a daily basis. Not the iPad kind of gift, but rather the things we often take for granted.

The Gratitude Experiment couldn't have come at a better time. Life has hit me hard lately. For months I have been struggling with knee and foot issues. In late October, my partner and I had to put down our 15-year-old dachshund terrier Momo after an agonizingly long decline. Within the same week, I was served papers notifying me that an ex-student had filed a lawsuit seeking damages from an injury she had suffered while sparring 15 months earlier.

But I have faith that this exercise will help me stay out of self-pity, move through and let go of grief and anger, and stay positive. If it works, I’ll definitely pull it out every November as a homework assignment for my martial arts students—and I might continue myself year-round.

Here we go:

Nov. 1
Day 1 of Thanksgiving: I’m grateful that I’m sober today.

Nov. 2
Day 2 of Thanksgiving: I’m grateful that, save for my inherited osteoarthritic knees, I’m in good general health.

Nov. 3
Day 3 of Thanksgiving: I’m grateful for my wonderful, beautiful, resourceful, and staggeringly creative partner. She amazes me more every day.

Nov. 4
Day 4 of Thanksgiving: I’m grateful for my warm, cuddly, awesome pets (three dogs, one cat) that love me unconditionally and make me smile and laugh daily. I still miss Momo, our 15-year-old dachshund terrier that we had to put down late last month, but today I’m grateful that we had all the wonderful years we did with her.

Nov. 5
Day 5 of Thanksgiving: On a chilly morning, I’m grateful that SUMMER’S FINALLY OVER in Texas!

Nov. 6
Day 6 of Thanksgiving: I’m grateful that I live in Austin, Texas, a super dog-friendly city with lots of off-leash parks.

Nov. 7
Day 7 of Thanksgiving: I’m grateful for all of life’s difficulties—the things that have made me/allowed me to face fears and overcome obstacles and adversities. All of these trials have molded me into the strong woman I am today.

Nov. 8
Day 8 of Thanksgiving: Considering the state of this nation’s economy, I’m grateful that I have a job that pays enough to cover ALL my bills.

Nov. 9
Day 9 of Thanksgiving: I’m grateful for family—mine and Mare’s. I have the funniest little bingo-blotter-wielding mom in the world. I’m also grateful for some awesome in-laws. I love them and they love me. Not everyone who’s married can say that. Even fewer who are gay can say that. I am truly fortunate.

Nov. 10
Day 10 of Thanksgiving: I’m grateful for three very important things: health, sanity, and, umm, what’s that third one there. Let’s see…O.K., so health, sanity, and—let’s see. I can’t. The third one…I can’t. Sorry. Oops…. (Thank you, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, for reminding me that I’m grateful to have a sense of humor.)

Nov. 11
Day 11 of Thanksgiving: It’s Veteran’s Day, and I’m grateful for all the servicemen and women past and present who’ve fought for our country, but especially Uncle Marvin. He fought in Vietnam and then was a drill sergeant stateside. As a result of his traumatic experiences in Asia, he went through some very rough patches during his life—persevering through pain others could see but of which he would never speak. Thank you, Uncle Marvin, and all the men and women who’ve ever worn a military uniform. You’ve kept me, my family, and my neighbors, students, and colleagues free and safe. For that, I’m truly grateful.

Nov. 12
Day 12 of Thanksgiving: I'm grateful today that I can hear. I can hear the quiet of an early morning. I can hear my cute, sweet, smart yet neurotic dog Dudley bark his head off at some unseen danger in the backyard. I can hear Mare burp in the kitchen and then belt out Tarzan yells like Carol Burnett as she gets dressed in the bedroom. I can hear birds tweet outside (not the Twitter kind). I can hear, and life sounds wonderful.

Nov. 13
Day 13 of Thanksgiving: I'm grateful for one of my Taekwondo students, who years ago when he was age 9 intervened on behalf of a classmate when a bully pulled his classmate's pants down in the boys restroom. Then my student did the right thing—the brave thing: he told his teacher. As a result, school administrators discovered that the bully had done this to others, and he was disciplined. I'm proud of my student. He helped stop a monstrous bully. He stepped forward to help a weaker, smaller peer. At 9 years old, he was a bigger man than any of those "men" at Penn State.

Nov. 14
Day 14 of Thanksgiving: I'm grateful for my 12-step recovery program, specifically Step 1, which reminds me that I'm powerless over people, institutions, and certain events. It's OK to stick with the winners, and, as a result, let go of toxic, drama-addicted people.

Nov. 15
Day 15 of Thanksgiving: It's raining today in drought-stricken Texas. Thank you, Sky Gods.

Nov. 16
Day 16 of Thanksgiving: Today I have yet another doctor's appointment. My left foot is swollen AGAIN. I'm grateful, though, that I have a left foot. And a right one, too.

Nov. 17
Day 17 of Thanksgiving: I have the best dream life. I've always dreamed in color, and the images are vivid. Lately I've been having recurring travel dreams, sharing my time between Paris and Las Vegas. It's an adventure every night!

Nov. 18
Day 18 of Thanksgiving: I'm blessed with the best Taekwondo students in the world. Their growth continues to amaze me!

Nov. 19
Day 19 of Thanksgiving: I have comfort: a small (cozy) house, and in that house is a livingroom with a comfy couch. On that couch, covered by warm and loving dogs, I get to take the occasional nap. I'm lucky. I have a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and food in my belly. I have comfort. Priceless.

Nov. 20
Day 20 of Thanksgiving: I'm grateful for the transformation of butterflies. They remind me that no matter what may seem wrong with my life, change—big change—is just around the corner. Today, a friend gave me the honor of releasing Monarch butterfly No. 9 from their makeshift den sanctuary. I named him Momo for our dog who died right around the time that the caterpillar cocooned. Then I let him go. It was a beautiful moment.

Nov. 21
Day 21 of Thanksgiving: I'm grateful that I don't beat up on myself for little things as much anymore—like forgetting to post this gratitude yesterday.

Nov. 22
Day 22 of Thanksgiving: I'm grateful for my day job. A competitor laid off a bunch of people last week. Times are tough everywhere these days. So I'm grateful that I have a job, first of all, and that I have the kind of job that is going to pay me to go eat, nap, and play board games with my family on Thursday AND Friday. What a gift.

Nov. 23
Day 23 of Thanksgiving: I’m grateful that I don’t live in Yemen or Egypt, where a revolution could break out on any given day with little warning. I’m also glad that I don’t live in Afghanistan, where, according to a article, a woman who is raped has to either suffer 12 years in jail or marry her attacker.

Nov. 24
Day 24 of Thanksgiving: OMG, IT’S FINALLY THANKSGIVING! Today I’m grateful for Angie Van Heel, who invited others to join her in a 30 Days of Thanksgiving (Gratitude) practice. The problems I had 24 days ago have not changed. They’re all still here. Yet I somehow feel better about my life. Hmmm. Thanks, Angie!

Nov. 25
Day 25 of Thanksgiving: Today I’m grateful for a circle of good friends (who answer to either The Yayas or The Domino Divas), a good meal, the smell of sea salt, and the sound of ocean waves. A weekend with friends at the beach: Awesome.

Nov. 26
Day 26 of Thanksgiving: I’m grateful for old songs like “Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver that bring back good memories of gentler times.

Nov. 27
Day 27 of Thanksgiving: I’m grateful for a day of living in the moment. Today, I had an unexpected adventure that I’d have missed if the day had unfolded according to my piddley plans. The Power of Now: It’s more than the title of a bestselling book!

Nov. 28
Day 28 of Thanksgiving: I’m grateful for Texas Ruby red grapefruit. It’s light and rich in vitamin C (a good thing during cold and flu season). Not everyone in the United States can get this fruit, either. Lucky!

Nov. 29
Day 29 of Thanksgiving: I won! I won! I won! I won an award in an essay contest sponsored by the Embassy of the Republic of Korea. Today, I’m grateful for the gifts of martial arts and writing. Most of all, I’m grateful to the topic of my essay: Stephen, a kid with ADHD. Through Taekwondo, Stephen developed (1) the focus to notice one summer day that his sister was drowning at the bottom of a family friend’s pool; (2) the courage to act quickly as he dove down to the bottom; and (3) the physical strength to grab his sister bear-hug style and kick them both to the surface and to safety. I’m excited about the award, but it doesn’t come close to trumping Stephen's heroic actions.

Nov. 30
Day 30 of Thanksgiving: I’m grateful for gratitude and the power of choice. No matter what happens in my life, I can choose to be grateful—to see something positive in one thing every day. If you’ve never tried the Gratitude Experiment, I highly recommend it. It has been quite a powerful and empowering journey.


  1. Nice Post Cathy, I can relate to some of the things you are talking about. I have some injuries that I probably got from overdoing things in Tae Kwon Do also, and in the rest of my life I am sort of trying to catch up with things the way they used to be.

    I will also try to start get things going in the right direction again by practicing the Gratitude Experience.

    Thank you for writing this post it has made me look at my own situation from another angle.

    Raymond van Berkel

    1. Thanks, Raymond. Sorry for the year's late response. I didn't see your comment!

  2. Thanks for being a source of spiritual mindfulness in our lives.