Complicated Gratefulness


I am standing on top of 2,500-year-old temple ruins in southern Mexico and my breath catches in my throat. I look out over the green grass and the rocks and the perfectly blue sky with a smattering of clouds and as happens so often when I see something unspeakably beautiful, I can feel tears welling up in my eyes. The moment is so brief but holy and lyrics of a Gungor song come to mind:

I see it all like a hymn
The constant refrain of the echo and change
And all is beautiful

There is no giving without any taking
There’s no love without any loss
Everything everyone building and breaking
Oh I see the grace of it all
All is beautiful

I did not travel here on some spiritual pilgrimage or even a vacation. I am actually here for work and we took an hour break from panels and screenings and receptions (not to mention the mountain of emails that need attention) to see a bit of the city we are visiting. And it is in that seemingly mundane situation that I remember again how incredibly fortunate I am to do what I do for a living.

You see, my job (like every job) has monotonous tasks and lots of hours in front of a computer screen and sometimes working through weekends and tedious things that just have to be done however unexciting it is to do them. But it has also taken me all over the world and allowed me to meet artists in cities whose names I had never even heard before. It is rewarding and fulfilling and I know how rare that is and I do not take that privilege lightly.

At the same time, I am keenly aware that the only reason I can do this job is because I don’t have young children. And because I don’t have a spouse or even a serious partner, picking up and jetting off to another country or city for a week is something I can do easily. When I started this job, I had a spouse and we were talking about children in a couple years once we felt more settled in our careers.

Sometimes I think about those plans and how differently my life has turned out. I think about how many places I would not have gone, how many amazing experiences I would not have had, how many fascinating people I would not have met. And I feel this complicated gratefulness. Grateful for the the really unique experiences. Grateful for the openness and freedom that permeates my life but also sometimes grieving the seeming stability and clearer future of the life I had planned.

I look at my friends who have laid aside or taken less demanding jobs so they can spend time with their babies and honestly, sometimes I feel a little jealous. They are watching a little person learn to walk or teaching her new words or hearing him giggle when he discovers sand for the first time. From talking with them, I know they keenly feel the privilege of what they get to do as well. I also know there is a complicated gratefulness for them as well. Grateful for their children. Grateful for the time to spend raising them but also sometimes missing the personal fulfillment that comes with more free time and a more results-oriented job.

Complicated gratefulness–it almost feels inherently ungrateful to even mention the difficult parts of what we are grateful for. To mention the sacrifices that come with the blessings. To sit in the tension of having something really wonderful but also aware that it is still not what you truly desire. I wonder if those things we are grateful for that are complicated are where we actually learn what gratefulness is.

We are thankful for our warm houses but also aware how much work it takes to pay the rent or mortgage. We are thankful for our families but also aware of the brokenness that even the best families experience. We are thankful for our friends but also aware that our friends have gossiped or been petty or forgotten to invite us to a birthday party.

That we can still be grateful for these gifts even while acknowledging the difficulties or hardships that come with them is incredibly beautiful to me. It feels richer and deeper than only being grateful for the simple or easy things. It feels both more honest and more gracious to look at the world as it really is and be thankful for the gifts while also acknowledging the hardship or pain that can accompany them.