The art of counting
“Envy is the art of counting the other fellow’s blessings instead of your own.”
— Harold Coffin
I often have a problem with envy, especially when friends who are my age start describing their carefree “empty nest” travels and activities. After nearly 30 years of caretaking and managing the lives of our children (beginning when Drew was born in 1984) I sometimes long for that kind of freedom. I can’t really imagine anymore what it’s like to be able to just “up and go” spontaneously, without exhaustive preliminary planning and arrangements.
Despite being thankful for the blessings that have kept us alive and together all these years, I still have occasional problems with an ungrateful and bad attitude. Here is a 100% true story of an abrupt and eye-opening experience that did much to curtail my bad habit of counting others’ blessings instead of my own.
One day back in 2012, I had decided to cook some steel-cut oats for Matt and me. Jeff usually cooks them for us on the weekends, and I just fix the regular kind for us on busy weekdays, but with Jeff at work that morning, I decided to get industrious and try cooking steel cut oats myself. That turned out to be a mistake. Let’s just say I ended up dealing with a boiled-over mess not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES that morning. Sometimes multi-tasking backfires!
I finally gave up being frustrated and just started laughing at myself and thinking how lucky I was to have had Jeff cooking it for me for the past couple of years, never once (as far as I know) ending with the disastrous results I had. I started thinking about how blessed I was; how happy I felt that I was able to stay home full time to take care of our household and all the endless details that go with managing Matt’s life. I wondered why on earth I didn’t feel those blessings constantly instead of sometimes becoming cross and negative. I resolved that I would change my attitude, beginning right then. The rest of the day passed happily.
That afternoon I heard Jeff come in the front door. “Hi babe, how are you?” I sang out cheerfully.
“Not good,” he said. Something in his voice made me freeze up inside.
That was the beginning of our lives changing radically, without warning. That was the afternoon he came home with the sudden, intense pain that sent him to the ER the next morning where it was discovered that he had a ruptured, cancerous appendix, and tumors on his liver that were suggestive of metastatic cancer from a primary cancer elsewhere.
I’ve thought again and again of the irony of how that day had started for me, as if it were some premonition that I was too clueless to notice. It haunts me in a sad sort of way; a memory I will probably never forget — and I hope I do not forget it. Every day that passes, no matter what else is going on in our lives, we are enjoying blessings that can disappear suddenly, without time to stop and reflect gratefully while we still have them.
That lesson is just as true and relevant in my life today as it was that day in September 2012. Whatever mistakes I’m still making, I am seldom unaware of all that is mine — and ours — in this fleeting present moment. I never completely forget how fragile and ephemeral this life can be.
Today, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, I hope you will take a minute or two for counting the blessings that are yours right now. Comparing our lives and blessings to what other people enjoy (or maybe, unbeknownst to us, don’t enjoy at all) is a trap, a lie, and a danger. In contrast, keeping our eyes on the beauty of our own particular canvas is an art as well as a discipline; a talent we can never develop too soon. Some of the lessons we’ve had this past 18 months have been unusually harsh ones, but I’m glad we are learning them.
One year ago today: