Though the afternoon was snowy and cold, an enthusiastic group of women gathered to share conversation, experiences and refreshments as we focused on the topic of gratitude for the challenges we have faced in our lives. Chairs were arranged in a small circle to facilitate communication and community. Donations of canned goods for Eastern Farm Workers Association were collected.
To begin thoughts about gratitude, WTB president Sue Savion read her original poem, “Thankful,” in which she eloquently expressed her gratitude for the diversity of her Syracuse community. Everyone loved the poem and brainstormed ways to share it with a wider audience.
To get us thinking about today’s topic—“gratitude for times of struggle, challenge and heartbreak”—Sue told a story about a boy who tried to use a knife to make it easier for a butterfly he had cared for to get free of his chrysalis. Sadly, the butterfly died because the boy tried to help it: the very act of struggling out of the chrysalis strengthens organs that are needed for a butterfly’s survival.
Danya Wellmon explained that this was an informal meeting in which we would be invited to share our experiences. “Have there been times in your life where you struggled deeply with something, yet somehow achieved joy through the struggle?” Danya and Sue facilitated the discussion.
One of us shared her religious conflict as she was called to convert from Catholicism to Judaism, and was torn between Orthodox, Conservative and Reformed sects. She heard God speak to her and knew He wanted her to become Conservative. She did, but retained ties with the other sects as well. She emerged from her time of religious struggle with the calm knowledge that while it is not easy to do what God wants you to do, if you open yourself He will show you his will for your life.
Another told of having broken her ankle in a severe car accident at the age of 19: a friend sent her a postcard every day for weeks to lift up her spirits. Because of the example of her friend and its effect on her recovery, she learned the importance of empathy.
One shared her story of trauma and stress around her older son’s medical condition. Her son battled severe allergic reactions throughout his childhood. Her son is now grown and successful; she is grateful for the hard-won knowledge that she is able to be strong for herself and others when it counts. Also, her younger son became an especially empathetic person as he watched his older brother’s health struggles.
Another told of the death of one of her closest friends.Experiencing deep grief left her with the knowledge that life is a true gift: she doesn’t put things off and tries new things in memory of her friend. She and her friends also set up a group that meets several times a year to continue her departed friend’s generous ways and continue to make a difference in this world.
Someone else shared an experience in which the Haudenosaunee were journeying the wampum belt and encountered horrible weather. The town came out and sheltered them in the rain, and the incident gave her the opportunity to begin a friendship with Sid, one of the Chiefs.
Another member said that over a long struggle with various health and emotional issues she learned that while struggle can make you feel isolated and alone, gratitude helps you move forward. A lot of times people are struggling and we don’t even know it. Be supportive of others and always come out for the better.
One of us wrestled with the decision to tell her grown child that she was conceived by in vitro fertilization even though her husband wanted to keep this a secret. She spoke of the emotional pain that secrets can cause in a family and the courage it can take to reveal the truth even when you feel strongly that it is the right thing to do.
Another spoke movingly of her movement from “carpenter” parent to “gardener” grandparent. As she tried to help her children through serious issues, she learned to relinquish the pressure of trying to “fix” other people. Now she doesn’t try to change others or expect them to change, but knows she can only control herself. She is deeply grateful for her change in attitude and her growth as a nurturer of others.
One of us spoke movingly of the pain endured by the tragic loss of her young adult daughter in a car accident. Within a year her daughter passed away, she also lost her job, and her husband left the family. She thought she would never feel joy again, but coming though the long struggle taught her a great deal. She is very close to her granddaughter (a toddler at the time of the accident). She has been able to forgive those responsible for the accident, and is thankful to be able to help others facing life-changing trauma now.
Danya mentioned that people need to be open to the struggle and the lessons it can teach; otherwise a person can get “stuck” and not move forward. One woman who had not yet spoken shared that she has been unable to move beyond a situation in her life because of holding on to guilt and not owning her choice and its consequences.
Danya thanked everyone for contributing their stories, and reiterated that sometimes times of struggle and pain can lead to our deepest lessons and bless our lives in ways we never would have imagined.