I had been on the helpline for a few hours already – it was a quiet night. When the call came in my partner and I both jumped, we’d been drinking coffee and chatting about the party we’d been to a few nights before. I guess we’d forgotten for a moment what we were there for.
I grabbed the phone and recited the usual welcome. There was silence on the call and then the sound of a young girl, she was crying. I asked her if she was in a safe place. She asked, is there a safe place? I asked her if there was someone hurting her right now. She said no. I asked her who’s been hurting her. She said her father. When? For as long as she can remember. I asked her, how old she is? She said 12. I told her we can help her. And she hung up.
I got off the phone and burst out crying. Yet again, someone was lost, hurting, out of reach, there was nothing I could do. I had no way to reach her. It was excruciating.
For years I thought about that little girl. Did she get away? Was she still alive? How is she doing? I’ll never know.
Then a few years ago, I thought of her again. I was at a workshop and they were talking about forgiveness and gratitude. How you just needed to let go of the pain and forgive that person that hurt you.
I thought of that little girl and it was unbearable.
What garbage, I blurted out. There are some things you can’t just forgive. There has to be something more than this to offer people who have experienced the worst thing ever.
They couldn’t answer me.
Then this week I thought of her again. I heard the courageous and moving speech that Sheryl Sandberg gave for the Berkeley Commencement. It was all about resilience and how to recover from the unimaginable, after the sudden death of her husband. She said ““when life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, find the surface, and breathe again”.
She spoke of “the light within us that will not be extinguished” and I thought again of that little girl and so many like her. I pray and hope that their light has not been extinguished.
And one thing I know for sure, is that there is always something to be grateful for. We can drown in the story of our pain or find forgiveness. The thing is, I don’t believe that forgiveness is a decision, I know that if there is any hope of forgiveness it’s through practice.
And I’m talking about a practice of gratitude. It doesn’t happen by accident. And it’s not a once-off decision to be grateful. It’s every day; to wake up and notice what you’re grateful for, even if it’s just that you had a little sleep. And not to close your eyes at night without noticing a moment of joy from the day that just passed.
Making gratitude a daily practice is actually learning how to regularly tell stories that give you joy, hope and ultimately forgiveness. It’s the only way to keep that beautiful light of yours shining bright. It’s the only way to develop resilience to the shit that the world will inevitably throw your way. To notice that maybe it’s not shit – maybe it’s shift. Shift into finding something else that is possible for you in this moment. Shift out of pain and into possibility. Shift into living in the present, the gift of this moment.
What can you shift today?
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