Some people think when you live a life of gratitude that every minute of every day has to be overflowing with sunshine and buttercups, rainbows and unicorns, and the like.
However, this isn't so.
Just because you practice gratitude and create a positive habit of gratitude, doesn't mean to say you stop being human, and stop experiencing the full range of emotions that is part of being human. Without the challenging emotions that, sometimes, knock us off our feet, we can't appreciate the amazing high emotions that make us feel like we're walking on air.
If I may, I’d like to share with you a personal example of the importance of experiencing and honouring (yet not-overly dwelling on) lower emotions.
A couple of years ago from mid of one week to the beginning of the next, I felt I had experienced every emotion under the sun... granted, mostly on the lower part of the emotional scale.
You see a little dove unexpectedly made his way into my life. On the Wednesday, mid-week, he fell out of the nest above our balcony, the nest that had been used by the same dove couple since before we lived here.
Seeing that beautiful, yet helpless creature lying on our balcony broke my heart as I believed it would be wrong of me to intervene, that I should give the parents the chance to continue to care for him, albeit out of the nest.
However as the night drew close and cold (we hadn’t yet entered springtime) I just felt I had to do something. My heart told me I couldn’t not intervene. And, so, I made a make-shift nest, make-shift shelter, for the wee guy which I left in front of him and he gradually made way into it for the night.
I didn't get much sleep that night, as you might imagine, because I knew he would be cold on his own and, no doubt, scared.
The following day, it was apparent the parents hadn't fed him so I chose to take him to the vet for help. Again, my heart felt like it was crushed as the vet offered me next to no help, though they did offer to keep him. Thankfully I declined their offer because it didn't feel right and I'm glad I did as I later discovered they would have euthanised him.
So, tearfully, I left the vet with my little guy in his little box and we made the journey back home where I left him outside, again in the hope that his parents would take action (I had since been advised that it's a myth that human scent, even though I hadn't physically touched him, would stop parents caring for their young).
The little brave, smart, determined guy made his way, albeit very shakily, out of his box-nest and moved to the edge of the garden 'cupboard' where I’d left him, close to where his parents would land on our balcony railing. It was as if he was saying, "Look. I'm here. Come feed me". Yet no parent came. So later that evening he made his way back into his box-nest for another night out in the cold, alone.
To leave him there took every bit of mental and emotional strength I could muster.
On Friday morning, there he was in his box-nest, puffed up and shivering. Later in the morning when it got a little warmer, he shakily made his way to the edge of the garden 'cupboard' in his quest to let his parents know he was there and was ready for food and love.
At one point (I was watching him every minute), there was great excitement from him; wings flapping. I knew it meant a parent was near and I got excited for him. The parent went close but not close enough and certainly didn't feed him. That’s when I knew he had been abandoned.
I waited a little longer, still keen to give the parents a chance, until I saw that he had made his way behind the box-nest to try to get away from the elements. At that point, enough was enough. And I went out, helped him fully into the box-nest and brought him inside.
When my husband came home, we tried to feed him unsuccessfully. We rang what few local wildlife places we could find but no-one could help us - they had no experience with birds. We researched ways to feed doves, glued to every YouTube video we could find. However he wouldn't open his beak for us and we didn't want to hurt him.
So we placed him somewhere warm, dry, and safe for the night.
On Saturday morning I put a plea out to some wildlife groups in the UK and a lady who owns a bird rescue stepped forward and offered to guide us via video-link so we could feed the little guy. Suddenly I went from despair and frustration, to hope. She guided us as to how to feed him while we were on the call and it worked, albeit not easily and not without stress for either of me or the little guy.
Suddenly we had hope. Even though he still was scared, stressed, and retreating to the back of his box-nest, we had hope, hope that we could do this, we could help him. And I started to let myself imagine him growing strong enough until he could fly, and we could release him. We even gave him a name: Duffy.
The next feed, however, we did on our own and it wasn't so successful. We did get some food into him, but we stopped as he was getting stressed.
The lady from the bird rescue offered to have another video call with us in a couple of hours so she could guide us further. However, sadly, by that time the wee guy was utterly exhausted and had let go of life.
After he had passed, all the doubts flooded my mind:
Had I hurt him?
Did he die because of how I fed him?
Had I done the wrong thing by intervening, perhaps the parents would have eventually stepped up?
It was hard to stop the doubts. I tried, yet they just flooded in.
And with the doubts came heart-ache.
Some people would say, "It was just a bird" or "You didn't even know him"... but in those few days, watching him fight for his life with such bravery and determination, I got to know him and I loved him. To me this was a living being and every living being, no matter how small, deserves to be supported in their fight to live. And when they can't fight anymore, for whatever reason, it is heart-breaking.
Why share this with you?
In a way, it’s my attempt to show you that, no matter how difficult and challenging something may be in life, when you practice gratitude, somehow you can always find the positives and the things to be grateful for.
A couple of years ago, I would have drowned in the experience and challenge I took on over those few days. I would have beaten myself up and convinced myself that that beautiful little creature died as a result of me. Whilst the heart-break was real and stayed with me for some time, I could still manage to find the positives and things to be grateful for in this situation; gratitude that helped me through and guided me out of the dark tunnel I had crept into.
I was grateful that the little guy got to enjoy some warmth in his last hours, rather than being outside where the temperature had plummeted below freezing.
I was grateful that I got to share time with such a precious creature who captured my heart with his bravery, determination, and intelligence.
I was grateful he didn't die alone and without love. He was surrounded by so much angelic and human love.
I was grateful for the amazing, generous, caring and supportive soul, the lady from the bird rescue, who gave up her time to help us feed him, who gave us the confidence that we could help him, and who supported me with her beautiful and loving words after he had passed.
I was grateful for the tenderness of my husband who also openly struggled with his emotions as the little guy passed. I wasn't alone in my hurt.
I was grateful for the support and love that the angels gave, unconditionally, to the little guy when I called upon them.
I was grateful for the love and kisses I got from one of my little bunnies who knew I was upset about something.
I could go on...
When we practice gratitude, life doesn't stand still and it doesn't suddenly become one big happy-ending. There will still be struggles, there will still be challenges, there will still be heart-ache. And whilst they still remain tough, the edge is taken away, if just a little bit, because you have learned to look for the positives, for the things to be grateful for. When you look, you can find gratitude in any situation, no matter how difficult, if you only look and, importantly, know to look.
I hope by sharing this you can appreciate that life will still be bumpy, that the road will still have its ups and downs. However, when gratitude is part of your life, you learn to seek out the beauty, the positives, in what may appear to be a dark and barren landscape.