On the Bad Days…

 I have hit a few bumps in my life. Most of us are intimately acquainted with bumps: The washing machine dies just as you’ve overspent more than a bit on Christmas, and you don’t discover this situation until, of course, the dirties have piled up to a measurable depth on the laundry room floor. Merry bumpin’ Christmas.

It felt at some points like single parenting was one long bump of guilt, inadequacy, fatigue, loneliness and stretched finances. Running your own law practice can feel the same way, particularly when opposing counsel is a litigating shark on crack, and your client insists you make nice-nice.

In one of my trips through the slough of despond, my oldest sister brought up the topic of gratitude. She suggested that in cases such as these… I might consider starting where I honestly could, with perhaps a little thank-you to the Deity or the Universe for the ability to breathe on my own, or to walk upright unassisted through my day. To sleep when I was tired, even if I couldn’t sleep long enough. She challenged me to search around in what I felt to be an oppressive darkness, and light one teeny, tiny honest candle over something positive: gratitude, relief, humor. Something. Anything honestly positive.

I do not avoid challenges, as a rule.

I have clients for whom a public guardianship has been decreed by the Court. These are adults who have lost all their buttons, and worse, all their family worth the name. Decisions regarding their care must be made by the local Department of Social Services. These folks have no one left who can be trusted to consider their welfare. Nobody. In such circumstances, it is perhaps a mercy they also generally aren’t very aware of their surroundings. One client was named Hiram, and he’d been institutionalized and comatose since the age of fifteen. He was eighty-six.

They scare the daylights out of me, those guardianship cases, and they give me a flashlight to go looking for my candles in the darkness.

I am grateful for the ability to breathe clean air on my own, the ability to chew my own food, to tend to my own hygiene. You bet I am. I am grateful I have a child who’s similarly blessed. I am grateful I have a trade, and a family who loves me. I am grateful for sunshine and pets and a mind that spins fairytales for grownups even as I drive to work.

If I make the effort, pretty soon I can find some honest gratitude. Not guilt, nor obligation, but happy little doses of gratitude.

Writing for me is like life. I get into dim corners, the words slow down and don’t sparkle, the whole business gets sticky when I want it to be light and easy. So I start with a word, a single word or a phrase that feels honest: “Once upon a time…”

I didn’t say it had to be original. Then I fuss it up to sentence status, focusing on honesty. “Once upon a time, he’d wanted an intelligent wife.”

I don’t know who he is, but I’ve got one honest sentence. The darkness is lifting. I can hear a tallish man muttering in the gloom. He has a Scottish accent, and he doesn’t sound happy. It’s a start.

So if you’re in a dim corner, a dark corner where you can’t even see the unlit candles, consider borrowing a little flashlight of honest gratitude. If you’ve misplaced yours, you may certainly acquire one of mine. You will find them at the bookstore.

To one commenter, I’ll give a signed company of “The Black Hawk,” by Joanna Bourne, a book for which I’m really grateful. What are you grateful for?

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26 comments on “On the Bad Days…

  1. Very grateful each time I hear or read about someone else’s health challenges that they are not the ones I must deal with, like Hiram. Blessed Be, I am not in Hiram’s place.
    Grateful I am no longer working, despite having used all 99 weeks of unemployment and no SSDI appeal hearing yet scheduled, because it means I’m not losing ground daily to a career I loved but my health cannot sustain.
    Grateful the Universe placed a new Gentle Man-Gentleman on my doorstep and I even had the sense to recognize him as a Gift.
    Always grateful for the furry kid that manages my life and home. Not much a purr can’t fix for that moment in time.

    • What you said about a purr is probably also true regarding a Happy Bark, a wiggling bunny nose, or the velvety soft nudge of a pony nose when it’s Treat Time. Glad there’s a swain in the picture too, because they can be pretty dear when they get to purring as well.

  2. I am grateful for healthy, happy children, a husband who sticks around in good and bad times, and a solid roof over the whole package. I’m also grateful for your books, Grace, which always make me happy and brighten my day!

    • Heather, when I lay me down to sleep, I try to thank heaven for my own health, but more emphatically for my daughter’s. She has been dealt some low cards in the health department, but she’s learned to wrangle them and not much will stop her now.

  3. I am grateful that there are reminders to be grateful. It is so easy to wallow in self pity and feel sorry for oneself. Reminders are needed that there are always others out there that have it worse off than you. I am grateful for authors and their stories that let me escape into other worlds and forget about things around me – at least for a while 🙂

    • Catslady, in that sense, I have a wonderful job. I see in almost every child welfare case that people just get dealt a run of back luck–genetically, economically, intellectually, emotionally. I leave court not only grateful for my blessings, but also relieved of any notion that I need to sit in judgment of anybody. Life is a rosier proposition when I take the approach that we’re all doing the best we can–all of us.

  4. Grace
    Your blog today hit home. I am physically challenged due to spinal stenosis. There are days I am feeling sorry for myself but your sister is right. I have a lot to be thankful for. Thank you for this “Pick me up message”. Happy Mother’s Day to all!! I am the “Mom” to a beloved Sheltie, Shadow.

    • Susan, spinal stenosis is no stinkin’ fun. I hope you aren’t in too much pain, and that many wonderful books come your way to brighten your days. I would be in very bad shape indeed if I hadn’t found Loretta Chase, Mary Balogh, Judith Ivory, Meredith Duran, and a few others. They were medicine for my soul, and still are.

  5. I’m grateful for my family , I have a job and I’m alive. When I start to feel ungrateful or depressed I think about all those people out in the world that have less then I do. Happy Mothers Day Grace.
    [email protected]

    • Ditto on the fam, the job, the above ground sucking air. I came across a statistic once that said you have a place to live, some food in the fridge beyond what you need today, and some money in the bank, you’re in the world’s top one percent for wealth. That is a mind-boggling concept, if true.

  6. I’m actually blogging today about one of the darkest times in my life, when my daughter was a newborn and I was exhausted and stressed and thought life as I’d known it was over forever. You know what got me through it? I had a book due in a few months, so as I sat there rocking and rocking and rocking a crying baby, I would escape into my book world and plot adventures for my hero and heroine. Writing was seriously my savior. Oh, and things got better eventually 🙂

    P.S. Grace, pick me! Pick me!

    • Shana, some days, I have to wonder why babies have such a generally good reputation. We’re apparently hard wired to go gaa-gaa over a bald, drooling, incontinent little person who will cost us our health, sanity and disposable income for DECADES… And yet, the species is in no danger of dying out.

      My daughter’s early months were bleak too. I worked full time, but was also trying to finish up law school by writing papers, at least one of which was about how serial killers are eventually convicted. I had a now-or-never sense about sitting for the bar exam, and through it all, I felt like I was short-changing my baby (which I was, though I was also making my best possible effort).

      I remember reading Judith Ivory’s “Angel in a Red Dress” over and over then, though it was called “Starlit Surrender” in those days. That book saved me and my kid, many times over. I just wish I could find Judith Ivory now to tell her so.

      • Grace, where is Judith Ivory these days? I have heard several other authors talk about how much her books meant to them. I read a couple but they never resonated with me as much as some other authors’.

        And I wonder if the babies are so adorable thing is hormones. When I look at pictures of my daughter as a baby now, she looks like a little alien!

      • According to Wikipedia, Judith Ivory (who is really Judy Cuevas) lives in Miami, Florida, and has been dealing with back problems for the past several years. I’m sure you will all join me in holding a good thought for her improved health and a return to writing her wonderful books!

  7. On this Mother’s Day, I am grateful for my son who will be graduating from high school in about a week. He’s a great kid – Eagle Scout, musician, and funny as all get out. He has a plan for the next four years (complete with a good financial aid package) that will hopefully point him toward a meaningful and fulfilling adult life. I loved being the one to hold his hand and kiss his scraped knees when he was little, and love being the one to take him on college visits and dream about the future. He’s such a good mix of his dad and me … both in looks and in personality. For my oldest child, my son, I fell in love 18+ years ago and continue to this day.

    • Yes! And that kid will never settle for a some semi-deranged problem child female because he knows what it is to be treated properly in an enduring relationship…. or so the theory goes.

      And when he goes off to college, Mom has so much more time for herself, and for her reading.

  8. Shana Galen & Grace Burrowes, two of my very favorite authors chatting easily and honestly of mothering and the trials. The insightful writings of the easy to over look blessings. I read Shanas blog this morning with the sweet picture of the little sweet one that,you are right Grace, deceives us all. haha As babies, they are not obliged to know how close to our breaking points they take us. As big people, they will bring us to our knees, begging for strength. They have no idea how simple we are. How little it takes to make us melt.
    Good question, where do babies get that reputation? haha Thank you ladies, for your words!!

  9. Forgot to say what I am grateful for. All the things that you have named of course. And right now, I am grateful for the www, so that I could read the exchange between you and Shana. I would not have been able to without it. So for now, I am thankful for the world wide web. 🙂

    • And we’re glad to have you with us, too! I tell my daughter that when I grew up, we had a party line telephone, no TV, and didn’t really want one, and she gets this, “I must be adopted” look on her face.

  10. Judith Ivory was at RWA a long time ago…she gave a marvelous workshop, and then she said, “Anyone who wants to follow me around, we can keep talking.” So we all followed her down the escalator–she was like the Pied Piper and we were the rats . Anyway, we adjourned to a bar, and she kept going, giving us all sorts of tips on craft. What a wonderful lady!!!

    • She’s a genius, and I can only hope she’s enjoying a well cushioned hiatus from writing. I just got Sherry Thomas’ “Beguiling the Beauty” and Sherry says right up front the book is based on Judith Ivory’s “Beast.”

  11. Grace,

    I am grateful for my husband. He is the epitome of manhood. Smart, works hard, provides,treats his Mother well, is an involved father and does dishes (and really isn’t that the clincher?) and in 16 years has never once called me a bitch. I am grateful, I am grateful, everyday I am grateful.

  12. I am grateful to be grateful!!! How many people are there only looking “up” complaining rather than looking “down” appreciating.
    I am grateful to be aware of how lucky I am with what I’ve got, grateful to be happy with and about small things, not needing a big car or fancy clothes or showing off with anything else to be happy. To be able to appreciate.
    And I know how much luck I have to have a great and healthy family and not to worry about finances, to have gotten a proper education and schooling and to just life on the right side of the world…