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Finding Gratitude

Jackie Fleckenstein

This is an exerpt from a blog post I wrote back in 2006, perhaps inspiring or helpful during the difficult days of experiencing a pandemic ...

...About that same time I started hearing and reading inspiring stories of people who had hit the bottom in their lives for one reason or another and who discovered the power of gratitude at their lowest point. In each case, gratitude discovered and embraced was a key ingredient in each person’s situation turning around for the better.

That got me thinking, but I wasn’t sure what to do with what I was thinking about.

Then, one evening one of the toilets in our apartment started overflowing … quietly. Hours later, just before bedtime, one of the kids discovered a flood of water in the bathroom, down the hall, into my bedroom and into the other bathroom. For a couple of hours the kids and I sopped up all that water using every towel and blanket we had and dragged them all over to the laundry room to wash and dry. By the time the last load was finished, the kids had long since gone to sleep and I was exhausted and sore.

There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with the toilet, so there was nothing to fix. Why it had overflowed, I could not discern.

Three days later the same toilet overflowed again, only that time I caught it a bit sooner and it only flooded the one bathroom completely and the second bathroom. Again I used towels to sop up the water, and dragged them over to the laundry room to wash and dry.  I also cried quite a bit … woe was me.

Still, nothing seemed fixable on that toilet.

Three days later, the thing overflowed again. Only that third time I caught it even sooner and only the two bathrooms were affected, and less so than the second time. That third time, I started crying right away. Life was overwhelming enough without an overflowing toilet and I (though I am embarrassed to admit it) felt sorry for myself.

As I started to sop the water and mop the floor, I remembered the stories about gratitude and it occurred to me, through my very sincere tears, that perhaps I could apply something about gratitude to my situation just to see what would happen.

Of course right away I thought, “Yeah, right … there isn’t anything in this situation to be grateful for.”

But then something occurred to me. I realized I could genuinely be grateful for the fact of having running water that could overflow through a toilet; after all, there are many people in the world without running water.

Then, I thought, I could also be grateful to have a floor that water could overflow onto, because some people do not have floors beneath their feet.

That led to a realization that I could be grateful for the walls and ceilings of our home that sheltered us from the elements, because some people have no such shelter.

I was grateful to have a toilet in the first place, because it would be so uncomfortable to have no toilet to rely on … even one that overflows.

I thought about my aching arms and back and realized I could be grateful for the health and strength of my body that I could use to such a degree it could get so sore from work.

Grateful also that I had a life with enough contrasts in it that I could see my life at that time was somewhat or very unpleasant … what if life had always been like that or worse and I had never seen happier days or times?

The more I found to be grateful for, the more I saw I could be grateful for. My life turned inside out, my thoughts and attention turned outward rather than inward as I saw my life as a a thing of beauty full of so many things to be grateful for that it would be difficult to list or count them all.

By the time I finished cleaning up the water, I was completely full of genuine feelings of gratitude and goodness and all of my unhappiness felt lifted away.

Shortly after my chore was complete I was thinking about what had just occurred and I had a terrible wonderful thought: I realized that in feeling sorry for myself and my condition of late, and by focusing negative thoughts on what seemed to be negative aspects of my life I was in fact showing a complete and utter disregard for my life, and all of the gifts from God contained within it.

I feel to my knees, closed my eyes and directed my thoughts toward God and humbly said, “I am sorry. I didn’t mean to not appreciate my life.” And I cried some more, quite a bit more.

I call that day, without meaning any disrespect at all, “the day I found God in my toilet”.  It is appropriate, because God is in every aspect of life and life is beautiful, even when it hurts or looks ugly.  It is all a part of the whole, and God is in every part of it … to me, this is my belief, not something I am trying to push or force on anyone but rather, want to share in case it may be of help.

Another realization I had later that day was that my life is like a river, with currents, ebbs, and flows.  There is scenery along the banks, and places to arrive at up ahead.  I began to see clearly that the currents of my life are “the river me”.  That river is my life force, my purpose, my drive, and desires.

I learned some valuable lessons about myself in this experience.  A problem I was having in life was a problem with me.  I realized that I had a tendency to fight against the river me.  I saw that as life seemed to disappoint me, I had turned myself around against my own current and was trying to fight my way upstream against the natural flows of my life.  Fighting against the current tended to leave me exhausted, unhappy, and unable to see clearly what was going on around me on the banks of the river me.  I could no longer see ahead to the places where I might land here or there.

When I examined my life while mopping up the water, I put my attention correctly on everything that was good and right and beautiful about my life, about the river me. And in so doing, turned myself around and into the flow of me rather than against the flow of me.

That was the first of a series of miracles, the beginning of a journey leading me away from Southern California to rural Upstate New York to a home on a farm on a river.  It is so fitting to live now where there is a thriving, glorious river right across the road and visible from at least half of the forty windows in our home. 

And by the way, that toilet never overflowed again.



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