Gratitude Changes Everything
After Christmas, my husband and I like to escape the cold, rainy Oregon weather and go someplace warm and sunny for a few weeks.
I’m embarrassed to admit that this morning, while staying at a lovely resort close to Cancun, Mexico I was feeling a little grumbly because our ground-floor condo smelled musty and moldy. With a large bag of laundry in each hand, I walked up the stairs to the laundry facility and was disappointed to see that there was only one washer and dryer.
As I started putting a load in the washing machine, a tall, black, bald woman entered the room. She explained that as they were packing up to leave, her friend’s child realized his beach towel was still soaking wet. She’d come up to put it in the dryer.
Intending to make polite conversation, I asked if she had enjoyed her stay. She said, “Oh, yes! I did things I NEVER thought I would never do! I swam with sharks and dolphins! I saw manta rays, and we toured Mayan ruins. I did EVERYTHING, and it was WONDERFUL!”
She went on to say that she had been fighting cancer since 2005. After multiple surgeries and several rounds of radiation and chemotherapy, she had developed Type 2 Diabetes. Her kidneys were now starting to fail, but she wasn’t a candidate for a transplant because of her congestive heart failure. She said that for many years her cancer treatments had run her life, but recently she decided to let her life run her cancer treatments. She told her doctor that she was taking a week off from treatment so she could enjoy this trip with her friend. She said she was living each day like it might be her last.
(Yes, in case you were wondering, I did feel about two inches tall because I’d been whiny about the moldy smell and the fact that there was only one washer and dryer.)
As Shantane and I continued our conversation, she explained that when she first got diagnosed with thyroid cancer, she was mad. She said, “I went to bed mad every night, and when I woke up mad the next day, I still had cancer.” She said, “After that, I got depressed, and every morning when I woke up depressed, I still had cancer.”
During another surgery for uterine cancer, her heart stopped. The doctors believed she was gone. When she regained consciousness, she started talking about being in a bright room filled with people who were all dressed in white. She saw her mother, her best friend’s son, and other people who were all so happy to see her. She said she experienced an overwhelming sense of being loved and being at peace.
I asked if any of the people she saw were still living. She said, “No! They were all dead, and that was the day I stopped worrying about dying, and I started living each day feeling grateful and happy.
Shantane said that because of her size and the fact that she has no hair, that people often mistake her for a man. For a long time, she was self-conscious about her appearance. Then one day a male friend told her she had fabulous legs and he thought she was beautiful. That’s when she decided to stop worrying about whether her skin was too dark or too light. She stopped worrying about her lack of hair, and she started wearing shorts when it was hot, regardless of how swollen her legs were. She released all of her insecurities about her physical appearance and decided her purpose in life was to be grateful and happy and to inspire others to find joy in their lives.
After spending fifteen minutes together, we shared a warm goodbye hug. As I walked back to our moldy smelling condo, I started counting my blessings. At the top of my list was the chance meeting with Shantane, a woman with an imminently terminal illness and possibly the most joyful, grateful soul of any person I’ve ever met.
She reminded me that although we cannot always control our circumstances, we do have the power to choose how we will react.
Shantane chose gratitude, and the next time I’m feeling fussy about some minor inconvenience, I will think about her and how I would choose to react if I knew that like her, my days on this earth were numbered.