Finding gratitude in difficult times

by Mick Rhodes |

Dear God, Allah, Buddha, karma, nature, consciousness, mathematics, science, or whichever higher power you favor,

My mother left behind a massive collection of small, adorable animal figurines when she died in January 2017, as you know. Though the guilt was strong, in the weeks that followed I had the unhappy task of deciding who among the porcelain flock lived, and who went to Goodwill. Dozens of puppies, kittens, giraffes, and other cute little critters were sent on to what I hoped would be new, loving, moderately dusty homes. Among the few that remained was a small, unremarkable bird with the inscription, “Count your blessings.” I’ve looked at that little bird several times a day ever since, and its reminder to be grateful has helped guide me through much trauma. Who knew mom’s little bird would stick around after she was gone, a proxy for her unshakable belief that there was good to be found in everyone?

I’m thankful for that daily reminder, especially because it’s been a tough year down here.

Following a barbaric attack by Hamas that left some 1,200 Israelis dead, a brutal war in Gaza has killed at least 19,667 Palestinians — mostly women and children — in just over two months. A real-life humanitarian disaster is unfolding before our eyes, and yet governments, including our own, have done nothing of substance to stop it, save lip service for “restraint.”

We live in divisive times, where politics is a blood sport, and our upcoming presidential election promises more of the same.

But still, there is hope. As one-time Claremont habitue Leonard Cohen wrote in “Anthem,”

“Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.”


It takes fortitude to face the day without giving up and crumbling in a heap of despair and hopelessness; nothing like the unimaginable resilience required to survive a day in Gaza, of course, but by sheltered American standards it’s a lot to shoulder. But just like the mothers, fathers, and grandparents there and everywhere, it’s our job to try. It’s what we signed up for when we reproduced, the only real lifetime appointment this side of the Supreme Court. So we go on and do what we can, stiff upper lip and all that.

Lately I’ve endeavored to produce a gratitude list. My hope is writing it all down will serve as a kind of psychic reset, that recalling my blessings will propel me into the new year with gratitude despite much suffering here and elsewhere. So, in the optimistic spirit of the holidays, here is this year’s (partial) list.

I’m profoundly grateful for my family, my children, my wife, my relations, and friends. I include friends because as I careen into my golden years, I’ve found they’ve become as important as those to which I’m bound by blood.

I’m lucky to have the best person in the world as my wife (fight me!). Over the past 10-plus years she’s walked with me through trauma, loss, depression, and somehow stuck around and dealt with a less than ideal version of me while I navigated my way through the morass. Things are different now. They’re better. I’ve learned to live with uncertainty and accept that there are things I can and cannot control. Now it seems she has entered her own season of loss and uncertainty, and it’s time for me to walk with her. I’m thankful to have had the best teacher, and grateful for the opportunity to reciprocate.

I wasn’t exactly prime dad material in my 20s and early 30s, but here I am a father four times over. Mistakes have been made, to be sure. Such is life, and especially parenthood. I’m currently seeing my soon to be 14-year-old son through his adolescence, one distinctly complicated by the immeasurably harmful side of social media, porn’s corrosive effects on kids’ expectations and understanding of sexuality, and a gaggle of other 21st century horrors. Unlike my experience with my three now adult daughters, I have a modicum of understanding into the chaotic engine of the American male teenage mind. Being there for him, and my three daughters, is a privilege I do not take for granted. Grateful I am.

When my own adolescence hit, like many a tortured, horny boy, I wrote very bad poetry for the unfortunate objects of my flailing affection. At 16 I devised a lifeline to bridge the yawning divide between my desire to be desired, and my nonexistent “rizz,” as my kids say: I started a band. There I was able to marry my bad poetry, now augmented by adolescent political angst, with my rudimentary musicianship, and soon my problems were solved. The stereotype held: girls like guys in bands.

In the decades since I’ve become a passable lyricist, have written some tunes I’m downright proud of, and have developed a slightly more sophisticated musical palette from which to draw. Making music continues to be an oasis, a “safe space” where on-the-spot synchronicity releases the uniquely satisfying endorphins of creativity. In other words, 45 years later it remains a place I can go to switch off my worrying mind for a bit, and for that I am so very grateful.

I’m also enormously grateful for purposeful work. This job is a throwback of sorts. Who knows how long local print journalism will continue to be a thing? I sure don’t. I do know real, fact-based (!) journalism is here to stay, but the physical product is an increasingly endangered species. Community journalism, though contracting alarmingly, is a sacred, necessary enterprise. I recognize my great fortune in being hired by the Courier in 2016. It’s been an honor and pleasure to do this work in such an engaged, diverse community. I’m very lucky to be making a living in this industry in 2023. And I enjoy it, yet another lucky break.

To recap, family, friends, work, art, these are the topline objects of my gratitude, among many others. I hope you are able to catalogue even more. It’s an exercise worth doing, especially in a world fraught with hostility, despair, and anxiety.

A little birdie told me.


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