I see key dates in my life as opportunities to stop and reflect. A wedding anniversary. New Years. My birthday. And this year, on the eve of the start of my 57th year, is no different.
Every year I learn something new. Something big. A new block upon which to stand, to take another step to reach the next plateau. So I can learn the next thing. Do I always love the lesson? No. Are there years I take a step backwards? That’s subjective. There is nothing wrong with re-learning. As long as I don’t get stuck there. And, so far, my re-learning years have been just a brief stop on the way forward, toward other things.
This week ends my 56th year. Tomorrow I can say I am 56. That sounds like a lot, but it went by in a flash. There were difficult years. Very, very difficult years, when I wondered if I would make it through. When getting out of bed and putting my feet on the floor took all the energy I possessed. Those years taught me the most. Then, there were years I learned things the hard way. Tripping over my own shoe laces. My own worst enemy. Yet, some others when things came a little easier. But lessons are lessons.
When I walked the Camino in 2017, it had been ten years since I was diagnosed with Adrenal Fatigue. It’s when your body doesn’t produce cortisol in the way it should. You can’t live without it. This comes about after a life filled with so much stress your adrenal glands stop functioning. My Dr told me that we developed adrenal glands to help early humans run from sabor tooth tigers. ‘Something tells me you’ve had to run from far too many sabor tooth tigers in your life.’ He was a world renowned specialist, and would have me come for appointments where his nurse would put me in a warm, calm room. Just to sleep and rest for more than an hour before he would see me. I never wanted to leave after those appointments. Such a calm, soothing place.
His greatest advice to me is something I will never forget. One day, he asked me ‘Kelli. What brings you joy?’
I remember looking at him dumbfounded. No one had ever broached the subject of joy before. Certainly, not a medical Dr with degrees from Harvard on the wall. What brings me joy? I didn’t have time for joy. I had to work as hard as I could, to earn as much as I could, to support my family’s joy. Music lessons, vacations, select sports fees, extra curricular school travel for my kids. The latest and greatest of everything. And to support the hobbies and aspirations of my husband. I didn’t have the luxury of joy, myself. My joy would only be found in their joy. What was this man even talking about? And besides, I wouldn’t even know where to find my own joy. At that point, I couldn’t conjure the feeling of personal happiness in my mind. Let alone my heart. The Dr saw my confusion at such a simple question.
‘The only way you will truly heal is to figure out what brings you joy. Then do that, no matter what.’
Yes, he pumped me full of iv’s and gave me a ton of prescriptions for the pharmacy. But the best prescription was that nugget of wisdom.
It took me a long time to take his advice. A decade more. It wasn’t as though I lived a joyless life during that entire time. I celebrated my children’s triumphs. My husband’s never-ending search for adventure. It’s just that I wasn’t living a life filled with my joy. Where would I find it? Where does the Universe keep the supply of joy and happiness locked up? And who doles it out to those deemed worthy? How do you qualify?
And then, I walked the Camino in the summer of 2017, after a difficult stretch that previous year. And, for the first time I felt sustained, personal joy. Not born of the joys of family or friends. My joy. It was a revelation.
It Starts With Gratitude
Fifteen years after my wise Dr’s advice, there is another lesson that stands out amongst all the others. The lesson of gratitude. Always, gratitude. I read somewhere that no matter what is happening, act as if you had chosen it. It’s the only way to eliminate suffering. And to neutralize negative energy. Transforming the energy of that thing to propel you forward to your goal.
I have been tested repeatedly in the past twelve months. Things that have not gone as I have initially wished. Challenging moments. Sometimes sadness. But then, stepping back, I can see how those things led to other things. Things for which I am truly grateful. The disappointments had to happen to lead me to where I ultimately wanted to be. Mentally, physically, emotionally. The answers were never out there. They were only found when I looked inward.
But even more than this. Every day I find that gratitude begets gratitude. It multiplies exponentially. On the most uneventful day, when I have nothing to be grateful for. <read that again, slowly> And on a day packed to the gills, when I have everything to be grateful for. And yet, each day I spend time, usually as the sun sets over the golden fields next door, counting up the blessings.
And Ends With Gratitude
Things that used to upset me, or bring me to anger, no longer do. I can’t be angry and grateful at the same time. There was a time, in the not too distant past, that this water thing would have had me furious. Especially since they are struggling to get all required parts for the water system to get us up and running again. I would have called and texted. Using the old squeaky wheel gets the grease methodology. But today, I can see how this time has been an opportunity to step back and reconfigure some things. When we open again we will be even better prepared.
Jeff and I were sitting on a bench the other evening. The benches near the Torre de Hercules in A Coruña are imbedded in the hillside and reclined. You’re almost laying down looking out to sea, or up at the stars.
‘Sometimes, I wonder how we live here. It’s weird that everything sort of conspired to have us sitting in this spot, at this moment. Even a wild fire. Looking out over an ocean. Feeling the wind.’
Jeff just laughed. He knows how I get. But some days, I do pinch myself. Overwhelmingly grateful, I am moved to tears.
I think, perhaps, if I’d had to rename the food truck I would have called it The Grateful Pilgrim. Because, as I have learned over the last few tears, I mean years, there is no happiness, no joy, without an abundance of gratitude. For all of it, the very good and the very bad. That’s where the joy was hiding, all along. And, because of that, something tells me that my 57th year will be filled with more joy than ever before. I can’t wait.