Loss, Gratitude, and the Vulnerability of Fierce Love

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” ~ Thornton Wilder

This past Saturday, there was a devastating house fire two doors down from my apartment, causing $100,000 in damage to my neighbors’ beautiful home in northwest Portland. As I biked past the wreckage on Monday and saw my neighbors rummaging through what remained of their house, I was struck simultaneously by two equally powerful emotions – sadness and gratitude.

I felt immensely sad for this family and the loss of their home, but also profoundly grateful for everything with which I have been blessed in my life – including a place to live (even if it is tiny, it’s mine), family, friends, my health, a job I love, my adorable (and often unruly) kitten, my baby nephew, food to eat, books to read, and even the crazy (and frequently frustrating) experience of dating as a single woman in her 30s.

Because even when I’m exhausted from not sleeping well or my apartment seems like it’s shrinking or I get my heart broken, I’m pretty damn lucky. Ridiculous amounts of lucky, in fact.

Yesterday, I learned that a friend lost her father to a heart attack earlier this week. Again, I was hit with two powerful emotions at once – this time, sadness and love.

I was absolutely devastated for my friend and her overwhelming loss at such a young age. In the same moment, I was overcome with love for my own parents. I immediately texted my father to tell him so, and was beat to the punch by my mom, who sent me a message on my phone before I could send one her way first. Her timing was certainly impeccable, like she somehow knew I needed to know she was ok.

These two events taking place over the past few days have reminded me of the importance of two things:  1) showing gratitude on a daily basis, and 2) telling the people I love more often that I love them.

Over the past several months, I have begun the practice of actively expressing gratitude for at least one thing every morning before I get out of bed. Sometimes I say it aloud, sometimes I do so silently in my head, but I make it a point to thank the universe for something – anything – before I begin each day.

This one, tiny action has helped me feel more abundant and happy and content in my life this year, even on difficult days or in challenging situations. Even when I feel lonely or sad or anxious or uncertain. Even when I question everything – which occasionally I do.

Gratitude keeps me grounded. It keeps things in perspective. It helps me never take anything for granted.

(Also: gratitude is good for your health.)

And although I love my friends and family fiercely and without condition, I don’t always tell them often enough. After hearing the news of my friend’s loss yesterday, I have vowed to love with even more ferocity and, more importantly, to express that love with words and actions more consistently to every person in my life for whom I feel it.

In addition, the events of this week have further convinced me of just how profound and important forgiveness can truly be. To forgive is to allow gratitude in, to choose grace over grudge-holding, to make space for love in a world where nothing is guaranteed. And that is immensely empowering.

What’s my point here? To advocate for gratitude. To celebrate love. To encourage you to make gratitude and fierce loving a daily practice in your life.

Take risks in loving people, embrace vulnerability, wrap your arms tightly around your life and say THANK YOU. Even when it’s difficult, even when it hurts, even when your instinct is to retreat into the safety of self-preservation by not telling someone how you feel or failing to fully immerse yourself in the sometimes precarious, sometimes terrifying nature of pure joy.

It will be worth it. I promise.