Thoughts Behind The Gratitude Journal: 2021

Gratitude Goal for 2021: To express gratitude for the ability to show love and integrity, in spite of what has happened in the past.

The resilience of a child is admirable in that it can endure large amounts of strain without the child holding back from showing love to whomever is around to receive it –and hopefully give it. Ideally, the child should not be going through anything too stressful but I have often observed that children bounce back quite quickly from tough times in the family and can more easily form healthy relationships afterwards than adults do. Of course, the issue will still affect the child –sometimes in ways that can manifest themselves in adulthood. But it is amazing that children have the capacity to welcome health after trauma.

Adults on the other hand… We need persuasion. Once something painful has happened in our adult lives, we curl up and die a little; we find it hard to welcome well-meaning strangers, or even to tell the difference between a stranger that has come to plunder and one that has come to help bring out our good side; we sometimes even dig in and vow never to try again, to never really live again, or to never to have a similar relationship again –allowing one person to ruin one area of our lives forever.

Yes, situations hurt. But once someone has meddled with our equilibrium or once we’ve destroyed ourselves, unfortunately, it becomes our responsibility to deal with the damage. It’s either you let the situation swallow the rest of your life whole or you learn the respective lessons and move on. Or do we secretly expect our lives to roll along in perfection? If you are alive to give yourself another chance at something you used to enjoy and value, why not do just that? We like to ponder the meaning of life. What if it is simply to live thoroughly? Whatever that looks like to each of us –simply and quietly or complex and loud. Every day. Without assigning impossible expectations to life, to each other. (Like 100% success rates in every aspect of life.) Without apology.

There’s also the issue of how adults tend to enjoy their own pain, with people competing to be the one with the heaviest problems in the room. We wear our challenges like badges of honour and hold on to them in the hope of being empathised with, or pitied, or being found to be relatable. We value our losses and weaknesses far more than all the people and the things that have stayed constant and faithful in our lives.

That said, sometimes it is a privilege to be able to get over things at all. Those of us who can do it take it for granted. But it really is because of chance that some are more susceptible to giving into the trauma of trauma than others. Just as some children can rise above challenging times easier and in more healthy ways than others, so it is with adults. It is not even about who is stronger but is mostly a game of chance.

I just think it’s important to leverage our luck, wherever we can find it, rather than repressing it in the name of relatability. Because there are people who need empathy (however much society is willing to give) more than others. I find solace in thinking there is someone who has been through a similar situation and actually rose above it to such an extent that they no longer feel it has a stronghold on them.. I think people think others care more about hearing an ‘I’ve been through it too’ than a ‘you could also look at it this way’. Or maybe they think the latter is patronising. But I really would rather have the latter (from a trustworthy source).

At the end of 2018, I met a woman who taught me the ‘you could also look at it this way’ mindset and my problems have shrunk ever since. Very slowly but surely. (She’s one of those women who makes you feel that there is a sisterhood after all in this world. She’s real and compassionate in all the right measures. She tells you the truth no matter how brutal, which has always been how I learn best. There are so many things women hold back from telling each other until it’s too late. And also there are so many lies women tell each other so that we grow up with a very skewed view of how things really work in the world. She’s one of those who tries to catch you way before you feel you need to be caught. She says things as they are, not as we wish they were –which has done me so much good. I now feel I am armed in some strange way. She makes womanhood NOT feel like victimhood. (I had begun to feel men recognise the advantages of being a woman more than some women ever will.) And in general, she makes being a person in the 21st century make sense –via different points of view, not just her own. She is rare (in my own experience) in the world of women (and also humans, overall) and I wish every girl had someone like her from the jump.)

I feel more ‘ready’ than I did when all I knew was that someone else has gone through the same things. Because I’d rather not as many people had gone through the same things. (What was I supposed to do with that fact? Because even though many had experienced similar things, we each went through them differently –leaving us feeling that no one will ever understand us.) I feel that there is a higher probability that I will be able to handle whatever rears its head next. And my past mistakes and traumas no longer define me. Sometimes, the residue of pain is still there. But I have become less and less angry. Less and less of a reflection of the past. More and more capable of being who I am, properly. More and more capable of building new and much healthier relationships. I know better *how* to rely on people, how not to, and what I can offer the people I rely on. And how to cope when someone sees nothing, no value in me. And when I’ve strayed too far… I know when I don’t necessarily need to be strong. I know that my perspective is not all there is. I can be the ‘main character’ one minute and be a supporting character the next –because both are relevant. I am learning to better balance being a human being and being a woman (yes, I can see the irony –if irony’s the right word for it. But sometimes it’s as if there are human beings then there are women then there are people and everyone is a person/is included in that group called ‘people’).

(This article is not necessarily about womanhood, by the way. It’s just that womanhood was one of the facets of this year’s gratitude goal. It’s as if the more I mature, the more that topic demands to be examined.)

And so this year, I wanted to take the time to be grateful that I have the right to be resilient (and to change) yet to depend on people and not to base my identity on how those I disappointed see me or how I see them; or even on those who disappointed me.

Chances are, we didn’t know what we were doing to each other at the time, anyway.

I’m grateful for the woman who was put in my path and opened my eyes to my own resilience, helped me remember myself. And to remember all the good, inner things we undo with time in the name of relatability/getting along with other people. And the fact that it’s not over yet. I define the things that happen to me or the mistakes I made. I no longer have to look back at the past and make it a barrier to receiving everything and everyone I want in my life.

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Copyright © 2021 Tebogo Ndlovu

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