Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.
– Melody Beattie
Last Wednesday, an EF4 “monster” tornado smashed its way through the Southern US, tearing apart buildings, ripping up hundred-year-old trees, smashing through businesses and crumpling houses. Over 300 people are confirmed dead, over 200 of those people from Alabama alone. Thankfully, most people I know are okay and suffered minimal damage, if any, to their homes. But for thousands of others, they’ve lost their homes, cars, pets, loved ones, and jobs. Hotels and shelters are packed with people and are in desperate need of supplies. People are having to sleep in libraries and gymnasiums. They are comparing the level of damage to that of Hurricane Katrina.
In the midst of so much devastation and loss, I am suffering a bad case of “survivor’s guilt.” The day after the storm, my life went on as usual. I went to work, went to the gym, came home and made dinner… that weekend I got Starbuck’s and walked around the mall. My family was fine, and so were my coworkers and friends. Then it hit me. Here I am enjoying a $5 latte when there are people right across down who have lost everything they had. I wanted to return all my purchases and donate the money to those who need it. I certainly didn’t need that latte.
While I realize that I can’t feel guilty about living my life, I’ve also come to realize how much I take for granted. And I’m not saying this just because I still have a job and a car and the people I love are alive. Tornado or no tornado, I am very blessed and I often forget that.
After the storms, I heard of a former co-worker whose house burned down recently. It burned completely to the ground and she and her husband lost everything (except their cat). They now have to go through the process of finding a new house, placing claims, waiting for their insurance to take care of the paper work, etc. They’re going to have to live in a hotel for who knows how long. While she was telling me all of this, I was shaking my head in disbelief at how horrible the situation was, but she seemed very happy. When I asked her how she was doing, she said she was fine. She is alive, and so is her husband (and her cat!). The firemen told her that what had started the fire was lightning that hit the house. It was so bad that if anyone had been home, they would have been killed. When the house was hit, she and her husband were on vacation. And so, she explained, she was incredibly grateful that they were alive, that they found their beloved cat, and that they were going to find a new home and start again. It’s okay to be sad and to grieve, she told me, but you can’t stop there. You have to let that motivate you to get up and do something about it. We can’t let tragedy stop us from living.
When we remember to be grateful, it can change our whole perspective on life. Your attitude has so much influence on how your day goes, and being grateful is definitely a mood-booster. It all goes back to what I said in one of my first few posts: our actions and reactions set into motion a series of events that ripple outward, moving beyond our vision and comprehension, to affect much more than we will ever know.
To everyone who lost someone they knew and loved in this storm, my deepest sympathies are with you. I wish you peace, healing, and comfort. For those of you who are like me, suffering “survivor’s guilt,” don’t let that be a “paralyzer.” Use that to motivate yourself to get out and help those who need it most. There are plenty of ways to help right now. Donate or volunteer. Help families sort through what’s left of their homes and salvage what they can. Take lost animals to the shelter.
It always amazes me how people come together to help one another in the face of disaster. Don’t let that be what it takes though.