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OpEd: On Being Grateful - in Spite of it All


OpEd: On Being Grateful - in Spite of it All

By Katy Byrne

As I traveled to see my brother in southern California this month I met people who were either uptight or kind. Halfway through the trip my money was running out. So, instead of paying $20 on a taxi, I walked from the hotel to his nursing home.

Almost there, but exhausted, I stood at a grocery store asking people for a ride. Not being used to this lifestyle, I was shocked at how frightened and begrudging people seemed as they bowed their heads and said “no.” I felt like a suspicious person carrying a big black back pack. It’s a pretty vulnerable feeling asking people for a lift. I don’t recommend it.

I got at least ten ornery rejections and felt like a fragile kid at a dance. Finally, seeing an older woman, short and bent over, lugging her groceries to her car, I shyly teetered towards her, with a tiny voice: “Are you going towards the hospital?” The pause seemed to last forever. She whispered, “Yes.”

So, we rode along in her tattered jalopy. I told her how touched I was that she was the only one who offered to pick me up. Suddenly with a bold voice she said, “I’m 85 and know the way to the hospital well - I have colon cancer.”

I asked, without thinking: “do you want to live?” She loudly responded: “Oh yes. My husband’s gone, but I love life.”

What I learned on this trip is that there are good people and not so nice people. The generous ones humbled me. I noticed that as each caring person offered support, I wanted to give more of myself. My tank was full.

In the taxi to the airport I told the driver about my hitchhiking. “You must promise me you will never do that again,” Momo demanded, “I will pick you up every time for free. Please promise me.”

There are too many stories to tell, but I have to mention the woman with three kids and two caregiving jobs who so slowly chopped my brother’s food into the tiniest bits so he wouldn’t choke on them. As if hypnotized, I stared at her movements. With such patience she moved the fork back and forth, obviously tired from a long week. I asked, “Do you like your work?” “I love it,” she smiled a huge grin.

At the airport I was so moved by the kindness shown to me that I chased dog owners around the baggage claim. I insisted on walking one woman’s dog in circles as he almost raised his leg, but never did. And, I met a blind man with a companion dog looking so tired that I asked if his dog needed anything. Bending down, painstakingly, removing the harness – frail voice: “I think he needs to go, but he’s confused here.” I was so full of this newfound energy that a determination that came over me, as if from something beyond myself. I declared: “Don’t worry, the dog will go.” Sure enough, I saw a fire hydrant right outside the door. And so he did.

Along the way, it turned out that the man sharing my brother’s room was a wild guy about 80 or so, wearing his blue robe only in the front, leaving his bare behind for all to see as he skedaddled back and forth to the bathroom. When I told him he had a nice butt, he gleamed. He was a part of a long list of people who offered us helpful words or deeds.

How can this world have so much greed and so much goodness at the same time? I guess its part of the hard work this globe is struggling with.

There are more stories to tell and I hate Thanksgiving usually. I hate that so many turkeys get slaughtered when I can think of some real turkeys – human – who deserve it more.

But this year, while expecting sadness and lost memories, I had my best of thanksgiving ever. I felt gratitude, deep in my gut.



Katy Byrne, MFT
Psychotherapist, editor and animal lover in Sonoma, 707 548 8982,