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Footprints of Gratitude: How I Got Out of My Florida Funk

November 21, 2021 | by Debbie Gutfreund

When everything was going wrong, it was my son’s fearless resilience that opened my eyes and helped me find a glimmer of gratitude.

For a few weeks after our tumultuous move to Florida in which everything that we owned was destroyed in a moving accident, I felt achingly grateful to just have my family safe and together.

But the intensity of my gratitude faded a little bit every day as we were faced with the task of rebuilding our home in an unfamiliar place with nothing from our past to hold onto. I felt unanchored and lost as we dealt with the ordinary moving stress of figuring out where to shop, how to navigate new roads and how to find a house in the seemingly overwhelming real estate market of South Florida.

And then I fell.

I tripped outside and fell flat on my face.

The next day I looked at my swollen, stitched up nose in the mirror and wondered whether we had made a huge mistake.

Soon after my stitches were removed, we moved into our new rental where my husband found a homeless man who had broken in sleeping on the floor in one of the bedrooms. By that point, after the police had been called, I was done. My gratitude was gone. I couldn’t even see anything around me besides the pain and the challenge that seemed to be around every corner.

It’s possible to be unhappy in paradise. Because it’s not what you look at, it’s what you choose to see.

I used to wonder how people who lived in such beautiful places, with streets lined with palm trees and sun-dappled ocean views, could be ungrateful. Now I know. It’s possible to be unhappy in paradise. Because it’s not what you look at, it’s what you choose to see.

One day, when I was feeling particularly sorry for myself, I took my youngest son to the beach. At first, even the vast beauty of the ocean could not awaken me. We shouldn’t have moved. I want our house back. I want my things back. I want back the safety of the life I knew. But my son was already running ahead of me, sprinting head on into the waves, laughing as they crashed into him, sending him toppling backwards into the sand. He got back up and ran straight back into the water, falling and rising and falling again.

Under the Ocean, A Glimmer of Gratitude

I followed my son into the ocean and dove into the waves. And beneath the surface of the ocean, lost in the roar of the tide, I found a glimmer of gratitude return. It was my son’s fearless resilience that opened my eyes.

Yes it hurt when I fell, but I knew how to get up. Even when we fall flat on our faces, there is grace in having the courage to rise again.

Thank You for helping me get up when I fall.

When we emerged, dripping in salty water and covered in sand, my son spotted baby jellyfish washed up along the shore. He ran to get one of our shovels and began picking up each little jellyfish and returning it to the ocean. I looked up and there were dozens of jellyfish lying on sand. My son began walking along the beach, patiently picking up each one and bringing it back to the water.

"They might not even be alive. And there are so many of them. Should we stop after this one?" I asked my son.

“But maybe they are alive. Or maybe they will come alive when they are back in the water!”

We think that children are impatient, but when they find something they care about, they possess a patience that most adults have lost long ago. With total focus, my son patiently picked up each baby jellyfish and returned it to its source, despite the uncertainty and the endlessness of the task.

As I followed my son’s footprints beside each jellyfish, I borrowed a slice of his patience and grasped onto the gratitude that rose up within me. The gratitude that comes when I am patient enough not just to fully inhabit this moment, but to keep reaching ceaselessly for hope even when I can’t see what awaits me around the next corner.

Thank You for teaching patience when I can’t see the road ahead of me.

After returning dozens of jellyfish to the sea, we collapsed onto the sand and my son laid back, looking up at the sky. The sun was about to set, and I couldn't see where the water ended and the sky began. I watched the horizon melt into itself as the waves receded endlessly before us. I looked at my son peering at the sky, and I couldn't remember what it felt like to wonder the way a child wonders. The grace of staring into the abyss and feeling safe anyway. The grace of knowing how to not know. The grace of a wonder that sees possibility in every empty space.

For a sliver of a moment, I inhabited that endless wonder beside my child. I looked up at the sky and felt the raw, aching awe of what it feels like to see potential in the empty spaces around and within me as the tide played with the shore, venturing forth and returning effortlessly to its source.

Thank You for showing me how to wonder again.

I look back and see our footprints in the sand. Small footprints sprinting in front of my own, showing me the way back to the gratitude that had been eluding me for too long. Footprints of gratitude reaching back along a shore that stretches until the edge seems to fall into the setting sun.

I look up and I feel the unexpected grace of this moment cradle me as I look around me and see the gifts that have been there all along.


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