I didn’t get rich. I didn’t get the girl. Follow me. — Leonard Cohen
Years ago at a Thanksgiving dinner with a group of friends, we went around the table each offering our own version of thanks. When it was my turn, there was an uncomfortable silence following my confession of gratitude for everyone who had hurt me and all that I didn’t get that I once thought I wanted.
Let me explain. It’s going to be a roundabout explanation, but I promise to get to the point by the time this post is finished.
Last night I sat down in bed, drew the comforter up over my belly, unfolded my laptop in my lap, and set out my little, yellow index card beside me. Smeared across the warped paper, it read: “Desire is a kind of blindness.” Written on a dog walk earlier that day in such steady rain that I feared the note card would not receive the ink, this sentence was what I believed to be the first line of the memoir that’s been gathering force in the wings for some time now. If it were a movie, there would have been a crescendo of music rising to meet my fingers at the keyboard as my first sentence hit the blank page. The thundering pulse in my ear of language-meeting-memory-groping-for form was inflating its drum roll to match the trumpets when I noticed the cat my son calls Blablio moving strangely across the bed, his lips drawn back in that snarling way that cats do when they’re trying to make sense of a scent. And then the smell hit me.
Frantically, I ran my fingers in tandem with Blablio’s sleuthing over my comforter until we arrived together at the scene of the crime: the watermelon-size circle of cat pee that was sitting right next to me in bed. Somehow, my hand-in-cat-pee leap from the bed attracted the two other cats and both dogs, all of whom seemed to be simultaneously catching the scent of foul play, resulting in a kind of Three Stooges-esque chaos in which, the peaceful order of the pack disrupted by this insult, splayed out into a Dominoes-type chain of inter-species aggression. I spent the next hour laundering layers of bedding, soothing and scolding various animals, searching for replacement covers, none of which were warm enough, even when piled together and wrapped around me like a sleeping bag, and–back at my computer–a little lost. Having averted the full force of the story that’s been pressing its words in from the corners for months now, I seemed to have lost any thread that might lead me back in. So I tried to sleep. That didn’t go so well, either.
This morning, as my son Theo climbed up onto the changing table that is now in the kitchen serving many entertainment and functional purposes — long story — and leaned against the wall to eat his blueberries as I sat across from him on the stairs, drinking my coffee, I told him the cat pee story. Not quite two and a half, my son and I don’t generally sit around and chat. Ours is a house of action where trains need pushing and beds need jumping and puddles need splashing, accompanied with a bit of narration here and there. But this was different. My son was hanging on my every word. When my tale of woe was complete, he requested, “More talking, Mommy.”
“About what,” I countered.
“About cat pee,” he giggled. And so we spent the first hour or our day in dialogue about cat pee–each pause bridged with an imploring “More talking, Mommy.” And in this way, an unpleasant event through shared storytelling became a divine little life slice I am likely to always remember.
Which brings me back to my point. I didn’t get what I wanted–the start of my story, the good night’s sleep, the warm bed. But I got something far better, instead: my very first chatty, non-physical-needs-based conversation with my son. This would not have happened if there had been no cat pee. See what I mean?
Now this is a small example in the practice of gratitude which has also seen me through the garden variety of heartbreaks: divorce, miscarriage, death, failure. But the principle is the same: when we didn’t get what we wanted, or when someone hurt us, or when we disappointed ourselves to the brink of devastation, this is not the end of the story. The pain we feel sooner or later seems to actually become a kind of transportation, and we arrive somewhere else that never could have been accessible to us without that fuel source. Somewhere even better than where we originally had our hearts set on going. And in this new place, we are anchored by wisdom. Seasoned by trust. Humbled and grateful for all we didn’t get–that once we thought we wanted.
In your writing life, is there something you wanted badly and didn’t get–or haven’t gotten yet? I invite you to spend a few moments appreciating all of the surprising rewards that have taken root in the ground that you believed was meant for something else.