A recent headline in The Onion read, "Universe Admits To Wronging Area Man His Entire Life," with the subheading, "'Dave's Got a Right to be Angry,' says Cosmos." The article then cites all of the ways that the "vast conglomeration of all matter and energy known as the universe" conspired against poor Dave Schwartz at every turn.
Earlier this week, I posted this article on my Facebook page, with the note that it humorously lifted up a belief system I sometimes fall into, despite my best intentions: that I am a victim, that some nameless force is deliberately making my life hard and that this is patently unfair.
Several of my wiseacre Facebook friends wondered, tongue-in-cheek, why they, too, hadn't been apologized to, why Dave Schwartz got special treatment, when they had also been singled out to suffer. Clearly, all of us could relate to this sense of unfair suffering and victimization, even if we could laugh about it.
And then news of the sharp decline and then the death of Elizabeth Edwards swept through the media and the world, including my little Facebook subcommunity, and there was an almost palpable sense from the news sources cited and the friends noting their own emotions that the universe did in fact owe this woman an apology for all of the hardships her life had brought. While, in stark contrast to all of us bemoaning silently or aloud the unfairness of it all, there was the final post from Edwards herself:
"The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered," she wrote. "We know that. And yes, there are certainly times when we aren't able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It's called being human. But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful."
Grateful. In the midst of it all, the motherless children and unfaithful husband and untimely death and unremitting grief for a dead son, the place where Elizabeth Edwards could center her final public words was in gratitude. I think all of us who, like The Onion's fictitious Dave Schwartz, were even facetiously awaiting an apology for all of our hardships, felt both humbled and awed.
December is a time of waiting, whether for the birth of a baby in a manger or of the solstice turning toward longer daylight hours. Even as the natural world around us goes into what looks like death, with long dark nights and cold winds, we huddle around candle flames and celebrate life, hope and courage. These days can either be an extension of the abundant gratitude we expressed during Thanksgiving or a wrestling match with a sense of scarcity --scarcity or abundance about light, warmth, love, gifts. My teenaged daughter grumbles this scarcity aloud, wondering if others will spend as much on holiday gifts for us as we are spending on them, wishing that every gift chosen for a cousin would instead go to her. We adults are sneakier about it, more quiet, but those voices of selfishness and clutching lurk dangerously close to the surface for many of us.
What if we decided, today, that we already have everything that we need and that there isn't a single thing anyone else needs to give us? What if we still chose to center in gratitude, now that November is over and we're wearing Thanksgiving's abundant harvest on our hips? What if we committed ourselves to the act of gratitude not as a sappy feeling, but as a consistent practice of honoring all that is given to us? As Elizabeth Edwards acknowledges, there will certainly be times when we do not exhibit all of the strength or the patience that we would wish. But still, in all of our imperfection, we can wake ourselves up by remembering all that we have been given.
Elizabeth Edwards' courage and grace in living her life, and facing her death, puts all of our petty concerns into sharp perspective for a clear moment. May we honor her legacy by vowing each day to "have a positive impact in the world ... through the simple act of living with hope." Hope not that someone will buy us the perfect present, but for the wisdom to see that we already opened that gift on the day we breathed our first breath on this earth and with each subsequent breath we have drawn. May we, like she, anoint our days with gratitude so that they are "meaningful and precious." And may we feel the blessings of giving and receiving which are present in every moment of our lives in this cold dark time of year -- the inhale and exhale of our breath, the relinquishment of sunlight into early evening's darkness, and then the gift of sunlight again.