Like seemingly everything in my life, gratitude is a complicated issue for me. The looming holiday has inspired me to write about it along with an accounting of my blessings.

More and more, people in my neighborhood have taken to calling out to me when the intersection light indicates walking is safe. The crossing in question is possibly the hardest I have ever encountered, because its traffic patterns do not lend themselves to auditory determination of cars stopped in response to walk signs appearing. I have been known to wait five to ten minutes for the circumstances to arise that make me certain I won’t become road pizza. A few times I have been very, very wrong and I still do not know why I was not in need of pepperoni. Whenever somebody calls to me that the light has changed, I feel relief and gratitude. A “thank you” does not seem sufficient to express my appreciation. To many it seems like such a little thing, but to me it makes a huge difference.

There is another kind of help that does not inspire gratitude within my heart no matter how hard I try to prompt it. People offer help that at the least I do not need and at the worst will actually be detrimental. Polite refusal meets with determined insistence that I accept their “suggestion” and these individuals want my grateful thanks. Even worse are the folks who have decided, correctly or not, my intended destination and silently reach out and nudge me. First of all, excuse me, but when was it ever alright to randomly touch women without saying a word? Second, while I know the people in question are just trying to help, I am unable to overcome my dislike of the behavior to express let alone feel appreciative.

Sometimes I think that is a very sane state of mind and other times I feel like the most ungrateful person on the planet, the latter usually happening right after I’ve complained to a friend who then points out “They were just trying to help make sure you didn’t run into something.” Guilt and gratitude are not synonymous, though. I have been told more than once that my problem is pride. I suppose that makes sense since help that feels demeaning bothers me the most. I would like to know, though, when receiving help meant giving up one’s dignity. An understanding is slowly growing inside of me that says people want to help but expediency is a primary consideration. In picking the most convenient means of aiding somebody dignity is often ignored because of the larger amount of effort involved to keep it intact. On an instinctive level I know those who think I should feel appreciation for whatever help is given would sing a different tune if they lived my life for more than an hour. Or maybe I’m just trying to find a justification for my prideful ingratitude.

Frequently I baffle people by telling them I would not rid myself of my disabilities if it were offered without strings. For me, the experience of being disabled –good, bad, and hard — has been a major formative factor responsible for the person I have become. Since I like who I am, it follows that I would appreciate what has shaped me. In many ways, I am grateful for even the hardest aspects of my life. Rather than seeing myself as having Overcome my circumstances, I consider myself a product of those circumstances. The metaphor of diamond being a result of coal subjected to extreme pressure might be schmaltzy and overstated, but contains a grain of truth for nobody says, “Wow, look at that diamond. It went through all that stress and survived.” Instead people appreciate its aesthetic appeal sometimes not even cognizant of what brought it into being. I am not, will not, and would make a face if you compared me to a diamond, but I do feel grateful for the forces that have wrought me.

On a less philosophical note, I am appreciative of many things that have happened in the past year from new friendships formed to older friendships deepening. In 2009 I have collected more than a handful of incredible experiences I will remember when I’m seventy-five. Even things with my family are morphing in a positive direction. Furthermore, I have managed to exercise regularly for over nine months which is the first time that has been possible in about eighteen years. Now I can consider doing multiple energetic things not just in the same week but in the same day. My immune system has managed to fight off colds and infections that would have flattened me for weeks even 3 years ago. Maybe it’s the acupuncture. Maybe its the supplements. Maybe it was simply time. The cause is far less important to me than the outcome which I appreciate more than I think anybody realizes for it is not just hard things that shape who we are but also the softer, uplifting ones. I will admit living through changes brought about by benevolent forces are far more pleasant.

Finally and most significantly I feel intense gratitude that, no matter what happens PerkyJen always emerges. I am not certain if that is a sign of strength, a determined spirit, or what, but I know in every cell of my being that I can get through whatever appears in my path. Sorrow, fear, anger, and spiritual weariness may occupy my mind and heart for a time only to be replaced by a pleasanter emotional landscape. This tendency is so strong and reliable that I will cling to the knowledge of it in the midst of whatever hard thing is happening. I think half the time knowing that makes it possible to get through the latest complication. Thank goodness.

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About Jen

After acquiring a degree from Vassar College in psychology, I moved to Western Mass where I ran a peer mentoring network for disabled college students as well as activism and organizing around disability issues. I also conducted research on disabled women’s body image. An Upstate New York native, I eventually followed my heliotropic nature to the sun of Southern California. I divide my time between writing (disability fiction and essays) along with moderating San Diego Bisexual Forum which is one of the oldest groups of its kind in the country. In my off hours I can often be found in my neighborhood live music venue enjoying our local talent.

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