Even despair can't survive this.
It has been a catastrophic few days in central NJ. Hurricane Ida brought flash floods and tornadoes and as I write this, the death toll in NJ alone is up to 25. As I sat in my basement during the tornado warning I had a front row seat as the water started streaming in. Even with the sump pumps going, within 10 minutes we had 5 inches of water and over the next 2 hours it rose to almost 18 inches.
Have you ever carried bins of your belongings through disgusting water and up the stairs? Over and over? It’s as awful as it sounds.
But this isn’t really the point. Over the last 2 days we have brought everything we own up from the basement. Our local friends came to help (the family couldn’t reach us as our town turned into an inaccessible island), and we stacked boxes, threw out furniture, made a ton of trips to the dump and tackled the black mold that is setting into the sheetrock.
And do you want to know what my overwhelming emotion is?
I know it sounds crazy. I mean this is stressful, right?
But I don’t really feel stressed and I attribute it not to some mega-level denial, but rather to the regular practice of gratitude.
This is what I have been training for. It is the ultramarathon of resilience and I am surprising myself with how ready I am.
Let me explain. Every day I write 10 things that I am grateful for (no repeats). Sometimes the list is easy to come up with and sometimes I get to #7 and I have to really dig for 3 more items. But I do it. And because I do it, I have trained my brain to look for things that I am lucky to have in my life.
It’s hard to feel despair when you feel lucky, or blessed, or privileged. Despair doesn’t coexist well with these feelings.
Let me give you my top 10 over the last few days.
I am grateful that we only got water in the basement. Homes less than 2 miles from me are completely underwater.
I am grateful that my friends came over, right away and without complaint, to carry crap out of the basement.
I am grateful that my son at college was safe when the tornado decimated homes 1 mile from his apartment. (Side note-he wasn’t worried at all.)
I am grateful that the township opened the dump so I didn’t have to rent a dumpster.
I am grateful that my neighbor let me use his pickup truck to make trip after trip to the dump...and I am grateful that I grew up driving a 15 passenger van so it was no big deal to drive that.
I am grateful that my friend came and was able to get our furnace and hotwater heater working again.
I am grateful that we were sitting in the basement when the water started coming in so we could act quickly.
I am grateful that 3 months ago I transferred most of the stuff in the basement into plastic bins instead of cardboard.
I am grateful that my husband and I are in good enough health to go up and down the stairs, carrying all sorts of things, hour after hour.
I am grateful that while this really is a huge annoying hassle, my hand is being forced to finally clean out the whole basement.
I am grateful for the high school friend who helped us demo all the walls today.
I am grateful that water damage made it easy to get rid of things that we didn’t really need anymore but were keeping for pseudo-sentimental reasons.
I am so so grateful that nothing truly precious got destroyed.
I am grateful that the weather is now beautiful, making it easy to put things outside and load up the pickup truck.
I know I said top 10 but I was on a roll.
Here’s the thing. I truly FEEL the weight of this gratitude. I just can’t get over it. My life is so good and this “catastrophe” has made me aware of it in an amazing way this week. Sure, I could focus on the mold but why would I willingly give up how great everything else feels.
Being grateful is not the same thing as being happy about something bad. It isn’t some fake approach to feeling better by “thinking positive.” It is a superpower, a superpower that gets stronger the more you use it.
I know gratitude isn’t a new thing. I know everyone says how great it is. I just never expected such a substantial return on investment for my little daily gratitude practice.
I would recommend you try it.