Clare Saumell VanderWeele

word wrangler.

The Forgotten Thank Yous

The only existing audio clip I have of Chris is from when he persuaded one of his best friends to try “Dave’s Gourmet” ghost pepper hot sauce. You can’t see him in the video, but you can hear his laughter and commentary in the background as his friend’s mouth burns – “It’s not unbearable… it’s just… it’s spicy,” says Chris.

And it makes my heart swell. To hear my husband’s voice again… There are no words.

It would have been a forgotten moment in a series of many, equally hilarious scenarios. It would have been altogether passed by, lost in the haste and spinning of our lives.

Except that death reminds us that life is composed of the small moments.

My favorite memories of Chris are not our wedding day or the day we moved into our first house or even the day our son was born. Instead I remember the hot sauce stories, the songs we sang tunelessly on road trips, the dinners we cooked together, and the countless evenings spent by a fire. For these and a thousand more, I am profoundly thankful.

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I’ve written about gratitude so often that it feels cliché to speak of it further. But I can’t help it. I absolutely believe that gratitude is transformational. Consistent, intentional gratitude changes lives.

Anne Frank wrote, “Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”

I think a single, genuine thank you can do the same.

And a thousand of them have the power of a roaring fire in the darkest night.

And yet, I forget. Over and over again, I forget.

I forget to be thankful for the hot sauce moments. The ones so common and ordinary between friends and family that we’re practically blind to them once the moment passes.

And, worse, I forget to be thankful for the foundational people and things in my life – the ones that are so easy to take for granted, until, of course, they’re gone.

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I could sit here and list them all. I really could. I almost did. And I most definitely will in person. But right now, instead, I want to repeat the Anne Frank quote I mentioned above: “Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.

I write it again because I came across it in one of many articles commenting on the horrors of the last several days from around the world in France, Lebanon, Iraq, Kenya, and more. This particular article remarked on the common response of lighting candles in commemoration and solidarity in the face of violence and loss.

It may seem like a small act with little to no impact on the larger problem at hand – in fact, it’s so small by itself that it’s overwhelmingly easy to be cynical about it.

But I don’t think this is true. I think it is a small sign of our humanity, a small sign that we’re not alone. And that when hundreds and thousands of them come together, all lit from one another, it is a torch of love and hope and goodness.

If our resources and talents allow for it, a candle should never be the extent of our actions, but I believe it should certainly be the spark.

I stick by my reasoning that a single, genuine thank you is as powerful as a single candle. I think that gratitude is also the path to radical love and hope and goodness.

I think it has the power to overcome fear and drown out discord.

For those of us who have the privilege and freedom to practice intentional gratitude, it should lead naturally to compassion and generosity. To blessing and to grace.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough, and more.
It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.
It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”
—Melody Beattie

And I think that’s how you change the world.

claresig

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1 Comment

  1. Well said as always dear. Thank you, for giving me a ride and keeping me company the day of Mike & Cassie’s wedding. Thank you, for sharing your journey in pictures and words. You are an amazing person.
    I have always been told “Even the smallest act of kindness can change the world”. It’s true. A simple smile, laugh, hug, wave, or giving someone something used because they need it. A burning candle to morn or to celebrate it can all stand for so much and make a difference.

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