“unabashed gratitude”

by Christie Shumate McElwee

This past Wednesday on the first day of Lent I drove to the Botanical Gardens to revel in the late February snow that blanketed our area. I wandered the paths, running into just a few other hardy souls. Walking the quiet park, I was struck at how different it all looked in the winter with no leaves to hide the beauty. I breathed in the peace, knowing that in a few weeks when the bulbs burst forth and the cherry blossoms show their glory, the place will be jammed with people wanting to catch the first glimpse of spring. So I walked briskly around the grounds, saving the warmth of the tropical Climatron for last. I even wandered through an orchid show, though I must admit their beauty and intricacies are lost on me.

I have decided during Lent I am gathering up small delights, seeing joy in snapshots. I am learning how to live as an observer, a scientist, a traveler documenting life’s enchantments. Seeing the daily minutia as gifts will help me dig my way out of winter’s darkness. It will remind me to stop, to appreciate, to know spring is coming. In the Christian faith, Lent is a time of fasting and preparation for Easter. In Eastern Orthodox circles Lent is known as the season of “Bright Sadness,” which sounds achingly appropriate. Spring does not come one day all dressed up in its finery. No, it slogs and drags its muddy feet. Spring teaches us patience. During the forty days of waiting, we spy proof of the magic that surrounds us. We grudgingly endure storms and acknowledge the particular cruelty of spring, but we also know it always comes bearing flashes of pink and purple and white.

Back in January I listened to an episode of the podcast “This American Life,” which addressed the subject of delight. For an hour the narrator recounted different perspectives of delight. One was a young boy’s joy at his first school bus ride. Another was the jubilant pleasure of an older widow’s search for the delight in her life. The narrator’s inspiration was the poet Ross Gay and his collection of daily essays in “The Book of Delights.” Gay tumbled through a tough year chronicling the small delights he observed. I was struck by how we can examine our daily lives, gathering joy from the simplest of things.

Now, four days into my journey, I have already amassed a bounty of delights: the noises Finn the cat makes while he sleeps, mornings spent in my cozy chair, finally finishing The Grapes of Wrath, a long afternoon nap, texting with my oldest friend Sheila, my yoga instructor Sarah’s sweet smile as she cues our practice, the gratitude that comes from a clean house, a surprise phone call from son Christopher, Saturday breakfast at our favorite coffee joint, and enjoying the fragile beauty of one of the last snows of winter. 

Small moments can grace us with delight, even among the shards of despair, conflict, and heartache, but only if we hold open the door and let our unabashed gratitude tiptoe into the room.

“…what do you think

this singing and shuddering is,

what this screaming and reaching and dancing

and crying is, other than loving

what every second goes away?

Goodbye, I mean to say.

And thank you. Every day.”

~Ross Gay, “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude”

“I am going to try to pay attention to the spring. I am going to look around at all the flowers, and look up at the hectic trees. I am going to close my eyes and listen.” ~Anne Lamott