When I think about my maternal grandmother, I’m always flooded with the sweetest memories. I remember weekend visits to her tenement apartment in Brooklyn as a little girl with my mother and older sister, how she’d kneel at the foot of her bed each evening to pray. As I lay on the Castro Convertible pullout bed in her bedroom with one eye open watching her and one eye closed pretending I was asleep, I’d listen to an outpouring of gratitude as it left her lips: gratitude for her family, a place to lay her head, enough food to prepare a meal, and getting through another day no matter how stormy it was.
From eavesdropping on conversations I wasn’t supposed to be privy to (that my mother and aunts had), I knew my grandmother’s life wasn’t a cakewalk. She was widowed at a young age and raised my mother, aunts, and uncles on a beautician’s salary with little help from family members she thought she could rely on. She struggled with several health issues, arthritis, and heart problems—not to mention a broken heart from losing her beloved husband.
Still, I never heard her complain about her storms. Her unwavering faith kept her feet planted firmly on the ground no matter what, and her gratitude for all she did have helped her focus on her blessings more than her burdens.
My grandmother and I were very close. Growing up, I used to sit between her knees on a milk crate covered with a blanket while she pressed and curled my hair. I’d listen to her stories or to her humming one of her favorite hymns. I loved being in her presence. I studied her in all her wisdom, as if she was the portrait of a Black Mona Lisa in a fine art museum. And just like my mother was so much a part of me as I grew into womanhood, so was she—even more than I realized.
I love journaling. I’ve filled pages upon pages of blue-lined notebooks and diaries with my words, but my pages were often filled with melancholy. I wrote mostly about those things that brought me down, whether it was a familial relationship, a problem on my job, or heartbreaking things going on in the world. I wrote about stages in my life that were intensely wounding or stressful, or about me not feeling confident in the woman I was, still a work in process.
My diaries were a bird’s nest for all my raw emotions, and writing them down was cathartic. But like sand in an hourglass it slowly began to chip away at my gratitude for the many gifts in my life. Even though I wore the mask of a smile on my face, at night when I tossed and turned and couldn’t sleep, it was because I had a “woe is me” disposition hovering over me. There was always something to commiserate about, and all I had to do was reread my journals to authenticate that it was true. Family drama, debt, writer’s block, a chronic illness, and so on.
Life, with all its steep hills and low valleys, was simply happening to me—just like it does to all of us, just like it did with my grandmother. The only difference was I forgot to hold a looking glass up to it, to connect to the divination of gratitude that would have unfettered my heart and soul.
At the end of one very stress-filled day, I took to writing in one of my journals. Then I put the journal aside and went into my desk drawer where I keep an old black-and-white photo of my grandmother. As I thought about her and her bedtime prayers of thankfulness, I could almost hear her again say, “Thank-you Lord.” So, I decided to do the same.
I started a gratitude journal. My grandmother had laid the spiritual groundwork for me when I was just a young girl. So, I started simply as my grandmother did, by naming what I was grateful for: my loved ones, my home encircled by giant trees that reach the Heavens, the ability to write when I choose to as a freelancer, music, my body that is still worth loving even on a bad health day, and so much more.
There is a liberation that comes to your heart and soul when you’re filled with gratitude. When you’re grateful, you notice the melodies around you—a birdsong, a child’s giggles, a couple’s love language. You sing more, dance more, laugh more, you serve others more empathically, you love more completely, and you live more intentionally.
There is a quote by Dr. Maya Angelou that I love. It says, “Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.”
Nowadays, thanks to my grandmother, I court gratitude in my journals—and not just what has scattered my emotions on its pages. Those journals are akin to the pillow upon which I kneel and say my nightly prayers.
Beautiful ones, what are some ways you are courting gratitude in your life nowadays to liberate your heart and soul?Leave a Comment