Two years ago, the snow gently fell all day, as I cuddled next to the fire with my newest little one, Zachary Michael. Though I was scheduled for induction, our little crystal baby decided to arrive early. My water broke and I labored for over thirty hours until he finally made his appearance. In distress, fluid in his lungs, they admitted my son into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for a few days until his breathing calmed, his x-rays showing his lung strong and clear again. My arms ached for him. I held myself for fear of falling apart, sending him Reiki from chair outside of his little plastic crib. To say I was in constant prayer was not an understatement. I called all the angels, the saints, the goddesses. I sat still in meditation and asked for Reiki and prayers on Facebook. I placed my hands on this crown and feet--soul and earth stars--helping incarnate. That is what it felt like--he hadn't quite figured out how this body thing worked yet. My friend Jack said, "It is hard for a spiritual being to become human. May the rest of his adjustment be easier than mine." And we laughed.
As I sat in the NICU, watching my son struggle to breathe, I just kept thinking, "Scream, baby." They told me that the fluid in his lungs may have been caused from his easy birth--three strong pushes. That is what I prayed for after all and focused on--for my baby to just come quickly. He didn't scream right away, expelling that fluid in his lungs. He was content, lying on my bare breast after an easy delivery. But all that struggle down the birth canal serves its beautiful purpose of pushing out all the fluid in the lungs and pissing those little babies off enough to scream out the rest of the fluid that may cause pneumonia or infection in the lungs down the line.
I thought about that so much as I sat in the huge room of the NICU with all those very little sick babies. We have to scream and struggle against our own contentness sometimes. One of my Religion professors, my mentor really, used to say that babies cry and scream because they want justice. We come into the world knowing we deserve comfort, love, food, heat, people to care for us. No baby feels unworthy. No baby hates themselves. Babies scream because they won't settle for being ignored and unloved. And they stop screaming when people prove them wrong.
The world talks about gratitude so much at this time of the year. But in this community, it is one of those spiritual principles we talk about all year. It is the elevator of vibration, carrying it up and open. Gratitude elevates our energy, opens us to healing. It is the gateway to forgiveness, love, and spiritual awareness. But I find that blanket statements of gratitude and platitude frustratingly miss the point. I think most of us recognize that we can say, "I am grateful for everything" and be done with it. But listing each of those things, appreciating the gift of them, the work we put into achieving and keeping them in our lives, recognizing their impermanence, focusing on those quiet moments of absolute thankfulness, are more the point.
Gratitude isn't simple. We often have grief, sadness, suffering, illness, death, depression and other circumstances that create a stuckness in our own story. This stuckness can be an essential part of healing. It is the point before the scream. It inspires us to say, "I am worthy of NOT suffering." Think of the baby and mama pushing to get him out for longer than three pushes. They are suffering, pissed off. They are stuck in this tight space, ready for the world. If you have birthed a child, you know, this is the time when you are distinctly NOT thinking about how awesome it is to have a gigantic baby head stuck in your vaginal canal. You are thinking, "GET OUT." And the baby isn't contemplating how much fluid will be pushed out of his lungs. They are in stuckness, and feeling overwhelmed and can't really see the light at the end of the proverbial and literal tunnel. I think we do a huge disservice to tell people to be thankful when they are in that place of suffering. I believe with all my heart that all our suffering is there for a purpose, and yet it is not so helpful to be reminded of that during the suffering.
Struggling with gratitude IS the practice of gratitude. All we have to do is trust that our feelings when they arise are right and important and valuable to the next phase of our healing, even if our contemporaries shame us when we feel negative or sad or self-pitying. So the suffering--the feeling less than, unworthy, stuck--let this be the gateway to the scream that gets it all out. Let it be the catalyst for feeling worthy of not suffering. Can you find gratitude in your own screaming? In your own declaration of your worthiness? Can your suffering be a prayer of gratitude?
When I am suffering, grief stricken or sick, I keep it simple. I look out the window, and find myself grateful for the beauty of a leaf twirling to the ground, for the air, and for my own miserable suffering, which reminds me that I am human and not a Buddha. For me, gratitude is an important spiritual practice, but our holiday of Thanksgiving transcends this individual daily practice. We gather our tribe and not gift each other things, not celebrate an achievement, or a person, or a God, but to collectively appreciate what we share as a family, or group of friends. We take inventory of those values we hold dear, and really appreciate what we have. As a society, we take this time to quiet and focus on home.
That is remarkable. It is wonderful to have this yearly community ritual of gratitude rather than just our personal daily practice of gratitude. And yet, I get why the holidays are challenging for so many who face dysfunctional families, estrangement, divorce, or grief. A few years ago, I took the opportunity of Thanksgiving to talk about grief during the holidays. I republished it yesterday, because I know so many of us revisit grief and suffering during this time. It resonated with so many at the time, and if you face difficulties during the holidays, it might be a helpful read.
But I wonder if we can't reinvent this space of gratitude for those of us who are suffering this year. Rather than shaming those who struggle with gratitude, allow them to scream, abide their stuckness, marvel at their own righteous indignation of their suffering. It is our birthright after all to scream. It lets out the fluid stuck in our lungs. Helps us to take in fresh clear air, filling our heart chakra with the love for ourselves that we deserve.
My son's second birthday was on the 22nd. He turned two and is a bouncy, funny, silly boy who bring joy. I have so much to be grateful for, but I found myself grateful for all the screaming I have done in my life.
So, on this Thanksgiving night, here is my blessing. It is the same blessing I gave two years ago after bringing my baby home.
Scream, babies, and I will be dancing to your beautiful siren song of healing.