Alate evening some twenty years ago, I picked up the white notepad from my bedside table and raised a pen to the crisp sheet. My goal was not a big one. I just wanted to put words on the empty page that expressed how I was feeling on this particular night. My two young sons were asleep upstairs. Our home was quiet and for the first time during this nonstop Tuesday, I, too, was quiet.
It had been a long, busy day at the hospital where I worked. Press releases had been written; it seemed I had walked miles throughout the facility, rushing to meet with department managers, and back to my office, making notes about an upcoming health fair. After work I had shuttled my sons to soccer practice, stopped at the grocery store and the local cleaners, prepared a quick dinner at home, started a load of wash and been back at the soccer field by the end of their practices. Over dinner Clayton, Zachary and I had talked about various topics: what school was like that day or what homework was due tomorrow. After their studies it had been bath time. Then, they had jumped into bed in their cotton pajamas. Sometimes we would read a story together and say our prayers. Often, as they dozed, I, too, fell asleep. My next weeknight ritual was returning downstairs to soak in my bathtub with the lights out, a few candles lit and my eyes closed. The events of the day flowed calmly through my thoughts. Most nights when I climbed into bed I fell asleep immediately, but tonight, I wanted to write.
At this point in my fourth decade of life, each day was full, with few pauses. As the dim light next to my bed shone on the paper, I wrote until I could no longer keep my eyes open. It felt good. And, so I began an almost nightly ritual of journaling, a practice that has stayed with me.
I did not call it journaling at the time. It just felt natural and relaxing to me, a silent therapy of sorts. I wrote about many topics. My sons were at the top of the list, followed by my parents and my work. Sometimes I questioned my parenting skills, wondering if this divorced mom was doing her best and making right decisions for her two young children. I reflected on dear friends, made a pledge to exercise more to relieve stress, and shun chocolate, my greatest weakness. Often, I just said, "Thank you." Thank you for another full, productive, good day. I would write until I could no longer keep my eyes open, then set the notepad on the table, turn out the light, and be asleep in minutes.
My nighttime writing still relaxes me and allows me to stop and think about particular people or issues in my life. I have stacks of journals in my home from years past. About 10 years ago I attended a women's retreat in Leesburg that addressed many topics, one of which was journaling. The leader presented us with this question: "If you were to die tomorrow, what would you want done with your journals?" Few of us had thought about this. These journals were our thoughts, admissions, secrets, triumphs, insecurities and prayers, all laid out on paper.
"Do you want to pass them on to family or friends," the instructor asked, "or would you want them thrown away?" We women who ranged from late twenties to late sixties, giggled, thought about it and all agreed that yes, there were some journals that would be burned or thrown in the trash that night.
Years later, during a particularly difficult time in my life, a friend presented me with a gratitude journal when we met for breakfast one morning. "Life will always be challenging," she reminded me, "but there is also much to be thankful for. This gratitude journal will help you see that."
I was not in the mood for a gratitude journal, as I was focused on what was not going well. But, I promised to look at it that evening. After my late-night bath, I climbed into bed, turned on my bedside light and, reluctantly, opened the journal. There before me lay five blank lines, inviting me to list five things I was thankful for that day. I leaned my head back on the pillow, closed my eyes and thought. Then, I picked up the pen, writing five times: Had a darn good cup of coffee with Kate, today, Had a darn good cup of coffee with Kate, today, . . .
Over the next days, weeks, months, it became easier to fill the pages of this gratitude journal. I recognized there is so much to appreciate in life. The little things we take for granted that are not at all little things.
Thank you for my eyesight to be able to look up each day at the beautiful sky. Thank you for the family and friends in my life. Thank you for our work and our home that bring us joy and comfort. Thank you that I can walk without assistance and can afford to buy clothes and groceries -- not everyone can. My gratitude journal caused me even to say "thank you" for the difficulties in my life that can make me a better person if I allow them.
And so, this 53-year-old woman climbs into bed most late evenings, takes the journal from her bedside table, and begins to write. My sons are grown and I am no longer living in my Texas home town. Life has moved forward. Reflecting on the day's events, the family and friends in my life, I fill the pages with my thoughts, prayers, and "thank yous."
And, sometimes, I still say "thank you" for a darn good cup of coffee.