Tonight, with a heavy heart and abiding gratitude, I have a favor to ask the long time readers of my blogs. Two months ago, the family that hosted my son in Madrid lost the mother and father, Javier and Theresa, in a tragic car accident.
When I think about the tremendous opportunity that Xavi and Theresa gave my son to live in a different kind of home environment, I am deeply grateful to them. Evan was welcomed into this loving home of six children and they even cleared a bedroom for their American guest. He was so moved by the tragedy that wanted to start this GoFundMe campaign that you can donate to here.
In this blog, I wish to discuss what it means to be family. I wanted to make this toast recently but was too shy. I was feeling very grateful for my med school classmate’s family welcoming us to Honolulu and assuring me that they would look after my younger son, Oliver, who is embarking on boarding school there in less than a month.
I wanted to toast to “Friends, the family you choose. And to family, the friends you…” and there I was at a loss for the proper rhyme. Should it have been “you never lose”? I know that isn’t true as there are many families that are estranged and never see each other.
Should it have been “you shouldn’t use”? Also not true as many have taken advantage of the tremendous largesse from loved ones.
Maybe my toast should have been: “To friends, the family you choose and to family, the friends you should never take for granted”?
This brings me to my point. There is a saying that Sheryl Crow allegedly borrowed from the Talmud: “It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you have.”
Human nature is such that when we feel close affinity and comfort with loved ones and we take for granted they will always be there. My son replied when I asked him what family was that it means “unconditional love and people that always have your back.” But all love is conditional and usually parents will pass away and not be there to support you one day.
What if instead of wanting parents who loved us differently, or wanting the things that we believe others enjoy in terms of relationships, material possessions, and talents, that we just allowed ourselves to feel gratitude for the many blessings that even the most challenging relationships offer?
When I think about my own shortcomings as a person and a parent, I no longer see these failings as a purely the result of some shortcomings of my childhood. I choose to view them as a challenge to find the ways that I can be more conscious and compassionate and that starts with myself and radiates outward.
We cherish our friends because they are truly family that we choose. But as a friend who recently was mourning the loss of a 16-year friend to unkind remarks showed me, you can always let friends go when they stop showing up for us as they should or once did.
So what if instead of thinking of family as a source of unconditional love we viewed them as the most precious friends that we could ever have? What if we cherished them and loved them and treated them better than we do the casual acquaintances and friend in our lives? Wouldn’t that make the world a better place?
The children of Theresa and Javier will never again hold their parents in this life. What if the last words they said were not the ones they would have wanted to say? Perhaps love is so strong and indelible that words and deeds are not needed. But I can tell you that it is cold comfort when my own children tell me that none of the gratitude, appreciation, or admiration they may feel will be ever be expressed to me because it shouldn’t have to be.
That may work for them but in my opinion, there are many people, from close relatives to strangers we meet every day, that thrive when we express gratitude. Like the blood pumping in our hearts, love doesn’t diminish when we give it away; it rather fills up and freshens with each beating.
That is why in my book, The Telomere Miracle, I recommend a gratitude prayer every night before sleep. It is a way of dream incepting the best possible stories while our procedural memory does its construction of meaning and stories during R.E.M. sleep.
Here is the excerpt from my book where I explain how the top 10 nightly gratitude list works:
Every night, I like to host a “top 10 things I’m grateful for,” countdown in my mind immediately before that long night’s journey into day. It takes less than a minute, but I have found that it is one of the best and most powerful “hacks” out there. I usually do the top 10 list like this: Numbers 10 to 8 always include specific things that my ego found “challenging” that day. Numbers 7 to 5 will be material things for which I am grateful. Numbers 4 to 2 consist of people whom I cherish, and number 1 is reserved for something that I alone can do. Here is an example.
Note that we start with the things that we decided to be angry or frustrated about:
10. That person in the white pickup truck who aggressively passed me and flipped me off—I’m grateful he reminded me to keep my focus on the entire road and even those behind me.
9. The credit card company froze my card—I’m grateful that the company is watching out for fraud.
8. The flat tire—I’m grateful that tire lasted longer than I expected and that no one was hurt by the lack of tread leading to the blowout.
The middle three (life could be a LOT worse):
7. I am happy to have a safe and warm place to sleep every night.
6. I am grateful to be able to take an enriching vacation with my family.
5. I am happy to have an income when many people do not.
The near-the-top three (people whom I love):
4. I am grateful for the kind and sincere remark my coworker made.
3. I am grateful for the encouragement my parents still give me.
2. I am grateful for the love that my (son, spouse, pet) brings into my life.
Number one: self-care (or why I’m special):
- I am grateful for my unique ability to make someone I cherish feel loved.
So if over the years you feel grateful for something that I have shared, now is the time to drop a few dollars into the tip jar and show my son that we are all connected, grateful, and part of one family that is looking our for each other. Click here to read more about making a difference for these friends in need.