The Eternal Summer of the (Elusive) Grateful Heart

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“There shall be an eternal summer in the grateful heart.”   Celia Thaxter

 

The rain came down hard as I sat on the cold, dirt covered tile. “Lost in My Mind” by The Head and the Heart danced back and forth between my ears. My three articles of clean clothing lay sprawled across the floor. “Screw it.” I thought. I could feel the worry  line between my eyebrows bleed into my mixed up brain. This happens every year. I somehow manage to be an extra crappy person on the Sunday of freaking Forgiveness Sunday. I mean I was here in Guatemala to work on the Hogar farm and lend a hand at the orphanage. I was here to build a working foundation for First Things Foundation. I was here to be a "good person". I looked at my pathetic mosquito net that kept my mess of a mattress hostage. We even put sheets and a pillow on the “mattress” to try to deceive ourselves. It was just a glorified rug in reality. Bitterness tugged at my heart. Why was I in such a bad mood? Nothing seemed to be going right. The bugs, the dust, the stares, my socks that

The author in her mosquito net

smelled of a dead, wet carcass; the ant bites, the boxed food, the dirty floors, the dirtier dog, and my joke of a bed all began to coalesce into a snarling, drooling beast. It threatened to swallow me whole. Just yesterday I had been swelling with gratitude and happiness. Just this morning I had the opportunity to hear the sounds of angels in full throat filling the dome of the monastery church. How could I now be so filled with anger?

I got up and tripped for the thousandth time over the makeshift barricade trapping me in my bug den. This collection of wood, furniture and a step stool were supposed to stop Frankie, our dirty, less than stellar watchdog, from entering my room and well, watching me. The “barricade” wasn’t really doing anything but making more of a mess for me. Frankie was like the Nazi blitzkrieg plowing through my feeble Maginot Line. One day More from Les Miserables played out in my head and promptly died out.

Everyone dies at the end.

I was doing it again. Over thinking.

I wish my mind was as simple as yours Frankie.

Back in the states I often did the same thing, watching my Great Dane sprawl out on her feathery bed, seemingly filled with serenity (or was that just stupidity?). Some days, I would’ve preferred her simplicity over my anxiety.

If I had simpler thoughts maybe I’d have fewer unhappy moments.

But isn’t this a lie? If I was more thankful, I would have fewer unhappy moments. If I paid attention to the things that were going right instead of wrong it would be impossible to be unhappy. I was brought back to Sunday’s service. In the Orthodox Christian tradition the service that begins the fast before Easter/Pascha is called Forgiveness Sunday. I had been to many Forgiveness Sunday services, sixteen to be exact, but this was something else. The feeling of piety was palpable - children twelve years younger than I hadn’t moved since the start of the two hour service. They remained calm and reverent. I’m talking five year olds! The communal singing wasn’t the type that slumps along, completely out of time. It was bursting with joyful sorrow. Each voice blended into an angelic, smooth, sweet soup. The warmth poured into my heart and streamed through my veins and delivered a profound gratitude. This was happiness; a deep feeling of gratitude for all the things you’ve been blessed with. The people, the places, and even the things (things are neutral; you can make them good or bad don’t you think?). The voice resonates now even as I write this: Be thankful and become joy!