I recently attended the 2014 Beachside Writers Workshop in Yachats, Oregon.
In one of the workshops we were asked to describe a day of pure and genuine happiness in our life.
As I sorted through my life experiences, one day stood out clearly. As I wrote about that day, I realized that the exercise was teaching me a bittersweet insight—–not only about my own life, but about life in general. An insight about the dark side of gratitude that I’d missed that day so many years ago, and why embracing gratitude can be a difficult challenge for so many people; myself included.
I wrote about the day I drove my youngest son to the train station in Rochester, New York. He was 18 years old and heading toward a three-month adventure in the wilderness with the National Outdoor Leadership Training organization called NOLS.
For three months, he and a small group of other men and women, would learn the skills of leadership as they were introduced to various wilderness survival skills such as rock climbing, surviving winter storms in snow caves, what it means internally to spend three days totally alone in the desert wilderness of southern Utah, and kayaking the white water rivers of the south west.
As we waited for the train, his excitement was bubbling from him like the foam from a can of Coke that someone had shook and then pulled the aluminum tab. I however was struggling.
My little boy was about to get on a train. I couldn’t have been prouder of him in that moment. But I knew in my heart it was about to be one of the saddest days in my life. He was leaving home and he would not come back as my little boy. Those precious days were over.
As he boarded the train he paused in the doorway and gave us a final excited wave goodbye. My arm felt like a heavy sack of grain as I struggled to “cheerfully” wave back knowing it was the last time I would see him as a child. I was releasing him to the world knowing from experience he would come home a young man.
My eyes filled with tears as I watched the train pull out of the station and disappear into the distance. The platform cleared of people but I chose to sit alone on the bench and take in the moment of my last child stepping out into the world.
The gratitude I felt for the opportunity to have spent the last 18 years with him was beyond words.
The insight I learned writing about that day, was the realization that gratitude and loss are often experienced together. Perhaps that’s why it’s a challenge for many of us to embrace gratitude; it’s knowing we can never go back to the moments we are so grateful to have experienced.