Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Astonishing Power of Gratitude

So much to be thankful for

I have had many challenges and obstacles throughout my life’s journey, but without a doubt, this year, my 50th, has been one of the most challenging years ever. Earlier in the year, I sat by my daughter’s bedside as she literally clung to life. I am still watching her slow recovery back to normal health. Some days she’s full of energy and laughter and on some, she can barely lift her head. Personally, I have undergone emergency surgery and freak accidents which have resulted in a broken hand, then a broken toe and then a mild concussion. Like everyone I know, I’ve had ups and downs.(To read more) But I am extremely grateful. I have been through much worse; the death of an ailing mother and the death of a vibrant child. I’ve seen my sister Christine adjust to life after the sudden death of her only son and I have shared in the struggles of my 5 adopted children who were all born crack addicted and, or fetal alcohol syndrome. I’ve been married and divorced in the same year and have had my heart broken more than once; still I am extremely grateful. With all of that, you may wonder what makes this year so difficult and you may wonder why I’m so grateful. Ironically, the truth of both lies in the same answer, because I’m still here.

When I was a child in Wilmington Delaware, I had an amazing librarian. Ms. Atlanta Brown would secretly hand me books (I didn’t want to look like a book worm, but I was.) All of these books were by and about black people. I would devour each word and phrase and greedily wait for the next one. Ms. Brown never failed me. Once I got up the nerve to ask Ms. Brown an important question, “Ms. Brown,” I said timidly, “don’t you have any happy black books?”

Ms. Brown smiled as if she had been waiting for one student to ask this one question. Without turning around, she reached back and pulled a large tome from her over-crowded book shelf. She flipped through the volume of poetry by; you guessed it, black poets to one by Langston Hughes.

I’ve been scarred and battered

My hopes the wind done scattered

Snow done freezed me, sun done baked me

Looks like ‘tween ‘em

They trying to make me

Stop living, stop laughing stop loving

But I don’t care

“Cause I’m still here

By this time Ms. Brown was smiling like she had won the lottery or something. “Okay,” I said to Ms. Brown, “but where is the happy part?”

As if she knew that I would ask this question, Ms. Brown was already pointing to the last line.

“It’s right there,” she said. “I’m still here and it’s up to you and all of your classmates to figure out what you are going to do with the fact that you are still here.”

What a powerful lesson. Langston Hughes and Ms. Brown were both giving me a lesson of gratitude. It is normal to focus on pain when you are in pain, but while my daughter was in ICU, I decided to be grateful. I was grateful that she could always make me laugh and that she was still alive. I was grateful for all of the doctors, nurses, and staff members who made the journey as comfortable as possible. I was grateful for all of their years of training to save my child. I was grateful for the people I was scheduled to work with who understood that I could not get there. I was grateful to my sisters Jeanine and Chris and the rest of my family who prayed with me and helped to see Fatima through. And today, I am grateful that she is still here.

I can look at the freak accidents and laugh, or I can say “Why me?” I can look at what I don’t have, yet desire or I can be grateful for all that I do.

This morning, as I was driving my 10 year old van I smiled at the fact that one window doesn’t work and one door needs a little help to close. Then I smiled again and said, “You old van are still here. You are paid for and you run beautifully.”

 I reflected on all of the items that I’ve been able to load and haul home. I remembered when all of my children, my mother and often, some of their friends huddled and watched videos as we drove across the country and I was and am grateful.

Don’t get the wrong idea about what you will read next, it’s good to give thanks to God, but God wants you to be grateful to each other and to yourself. Take a moment to say thank you to the people who are there for you and who help guide your life. Look about you and see all that you have and give thanks.

When my mother was living, I would often call my siblings to share and laugh about how she’d go through the house touching things and crying. “These are tears of joy,” she’d say. She’d shake her head in disbelief of all that we had.

“I can’t believe how far we’ve come. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! She’d cry out. She’d look out the window and say “Thank you God for this beautiful day.” Then she’d turn and thank me for allowing her to share in my life. I would say, “Oh Mom, you don’t have to thank me” and she would tell me to learn to receive the thanks.

Gratitude erases fear, doubt and disbelief. Gratitude helps you breathe more easily and see more clearly. In the future I will share more about the practice of gratitude. But for now, do the following exercises.

·         Write down three things that are bothering you today. Then write down how you can be grateful about these same things.

·         Take a short look back and see how far you’ve come in one year.

·         Write a thank-you note to someone you’ve been meaning to thank.

·         Gratitude can also be shown; give something to someone who has less than you.

What you give attention to expands; but what you give grateful attention to expands exponentially.

Bertice Berry PhD

When you walk with Purpose, You collide with Destiny.


  1. I can not wait to see you in Memphis Dr. Berry! Enjoyed you in Savannah! Just the boost we need!

  2. I'm anxious to hear your story and hope to meet you while you are in Memphis. My family and I have experienced OUTRAGEOUS stress due to the chronic illness of a child, but we are still here together and are thankful for every minute we have with each other. Life is full of blessings and they can show up in the strangest places.