When I turned 42, Fear took hold of me in the form of death premonitions. It demanded my attention. I’m eternally grateful that it did.
Prior to A Year of Thank Yous, my sense of gratitude was limited at best. Being grateful only for the things I deemed positive likened me to a spoiled child sitting amongst a pile of gifts, saying thank you only for the ones I wanted. This occurred to me one night in a dream.
I was standing at the gates of Heaven where God waited in anticipation. As I approached, His first question was, “Well, did you like it?”
“Like what?” I asked.
Disappointed in my ignorance, God replied, “My gift. The life I gave you. Did you enjoy it?”
Hanging my head in shame, I admitted, “Oh. I didn’t know it was a gift. There were so many things that scared me. So many things I wouldn’t have chosen for myself. I thought it was a test, maybe even a punishment, but not a gift. I’m sorry.”
God turned, crestfallen, leaving me to wonder which of us was more disappointed. Eager to correct my mistake, I pledged to re-visit my life with new eyes.
Determined to set things right with God, I marched toward Fear ready for a showdown. Grabbing Fear by the throat, I unleashed my intention. Never again would I let Fear rule me or lead me or cloud my judgment. Fear had one role – to protect me from real harm – not imagined threats. It was not meant to ruin my enjoyment of God’s gift.
Defying me with the strength I had given it over many years, Fear laughed meniacally and said, “Choose your weapon.” Looking at my arsenal of choices, I quickly decided on my best defense – Gratitude. Like a master admitting defeat before a fight, Fear bowed, smiled a knowing smile, and acknowledged my wise choice.
This Year of Thank Yous has woven a tale of the battle between Fear and Gratitude. Each side has scored its share of points. There are days when Fear overcame me, opening the door for depression, worry, and all their friends. At first I would drop my weapon and fall to the ground in surrender. With practice, though, I learned to use Gratitude more effectively. Eventually, it became not just a tool, but an extension of myself. These days, it is a rare occurrence when Fear shows up for a fight. My black belt in Gratitude keeps it at bay.
As I give thanks on this, my 43rd birthday, I reflect on the difference a year makes. At the outset of the Gratitude Project I wouldn’t have predicted that my premonitions of death would lead me to life. I thought I would die physically and that my family would suffer a great loss. As Divine Paradox would have it, part of me did die, but in a way that brought me immeasurable gain. The fear of death brought the death of fear.
One could say I was already dead – dead to the beauty of a full-contact life. Unappreciative of the big picture. Unaware that the life I was living was a mere fraction of the potential gifted to me at birth. Fear, the perceived enemy, turned out to be a blessing, merely a sheep in wolve’s clothings.
Fear lit the match that was needed to spark my appreciation of life as it is. It lit the fire that illuminated the darkness of my thoughts. It helped me see my life, with its surprises and uncertainties, its joys and sorrows, as the gift it was meant to be.
I am no longer interested in living life with a footnote. There are no conditions to my gratitude, no blame, no wishful thinking. I love life as it is.
Today, I am 43. Today I rest in peace. For this, I am thankful.
“I’m not afraid to die. I’m afraid to be alive without knowing it.” -Epica in the song Sensorium