Light of Gratitude in Dark Times

Suzette Standring
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In the wake of terror and violence, a Facebook friend rallied against desensitization or surrendering to despair. But what else is there to feel? Paranoia? Revenge? Hatred?  I needed another option.

This is the season for love and goodwill, but headlines disconnected me from holiday cheer, such as writing Christmas cards. Then, I thought, why not send out gratitude emails to those who least expect it from me? Not seasonal greetings, per se, but instead a surprise affirmation: I cherish your friendship, or sending hugs from afar, or though we haven’t known each other long, you are a blessing in my life.

Terrible times cause us to turn to loved ones.  Often I hear, “Hold your children tight.”  For me, faith, family and close friends are my first line of emotional defense. Then I thought about friends and acquaintances who are not on my daily radar, yet I am mindful of them because of times they filled my spirit. Such folks, as well as the near and dear, are what’s good and right with the world.

Like the time I hosted an event, worried no one would come.  New friend Maureen arrived with her family and gal pals.  Now a year later, I reminded her of it and wrote, You’ll never know how much that meant to me.”   Another surprise email was sent to Ingrid, an acquaintance who brainstormed with me about a new book project.  I arrived fretting my idea was “too out there.”  She changed my view and I wrote to her, Thank you for making me believe I am original.  Nicole is confident of others but second-guesses herself way too often, so I popped onscreen with, We never see ourselves as others see us, but I see you, and you are light itself.

I didn’t send a “mass email” because such encounters are not a one-size-fits-all.  Instead I wrote five, short emails a day to those who bring cheer, encouragement, (or cookies) with no expectations.  Those who, during dark times, make me laugh even when I don’t think I can.  Those who help me to see myself in new ways for good, and occasionally for the bad (which takes commitment and bravery!).

In return, I felt connected across time, distance, and ridiculous schedules because email is so immediate. My isolation banished when they wrote back with pleasure and surprise.  Sometimes they were going through hardship or medical setbacks, and my email was just the “hug” they needed at the moment.

I can do little to change destruction in the world, but loving hearts are flickers in the darkness.   My emails were a way of saying, “I’m reaching toward your light.”

Try it. Email rays of gratitude to the many good and decent folks in your life. You’ll be the recipient of unexpected warmth in return.

This column will run in the Patriot Ledger and for GateHouse Media.