The art of counting

Five of my earliest and greatest blessings, in a life filled with them. January 2014

Five of my earliest and greatest blessings, in a life filled with them. January 2014

“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:

The thief of joy

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. Good morning, Julia!
    Thank you so much for sharing this. I wish we could learn to appreciate gifts without experiencing pain. Even with pain, some of us are better at realizing or recognizing our blessings, and I’m glad to be one of them. I’ve seen people with so much “more” be miserable, thinking of what they don’t have.
    Incidentally, I have similar, repeated problems with steel cut oats. You’re probably right to note the influence of multitasking on our success (or lack of it, rather).

    • I’ve learned that those who appear to have “more” often have problems I don’t dream of. There are many who have seemed impatient with me, and all but accuse me of being too stuck in grief, but some of those who know anywhere close to the full story of what we’ve endured are slower to think themselves superior in terms of how they imagine they might cope with the same circumstances. The bottom line is, we never know the complete truth what cards another person has been dealt, even if we think we know them well. And life is a great equalizer. Sooner or later, most of us are forced to a position of humility. It’s a painful lesson, and the longer we escape it, probably the more painful it becomes.

      • I agree with your thought that the longer we glide through life without issues, the less prepared we would be when they come. Sort of like if someone bumps into you, and you don’t have both feet firmly planted in the ground: much more likely to topple over.

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