birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

A Habit of Gratitude


I’m not so great with New Year’s resolutions. If I were, I’d weigh 120 pounds. I did, however, make a life-changing commitment 20 years ago when I was facing breast cancer.

Several of my close friends from work gave me a gratitude journal. It may seem counter-intuitive to expect a cancer patient to feel grateful, l but I embraced the discipline of recording five things I was grateful for every day. I was never able to stop at just five.

Okay. I admit I did repeat some of the basics nightly:
1. My husband
2. Robin
3. Nicole
4. My home
5. Meaningful work
And every day it was easy to find more items to add to my list. It was easier to keep adding than to stop.
6. Sunlight sparkling on the lake
7. Crocuses
8. A get-well card
9. The church choir
10. A soft pillow
11. A child’s smile
12. My parents love

When I was 39, my 37-year old brother killed himself. He was a successful physician with a custom water-front home on Florida’s St. Lucie River. He had a beautiful wife and two sons he loved. He also suffered from bi-polar disorder and was going through a bitter divorce. Convinced that he was losing everything worth living for, he drove his Mercedes to the beach, waded out into the ocean and injected himself with a fatal dose of morphine. He was dead before his body hit the water.

As agonizing as that loss was for my family, I knew every day that millions of people were suffering more. There were housefires, car wrecks, babies killed, hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods. All I had to do was read the newspaper. I kept reminding myself of this truth during that long period of mourning. This habit of mind saved me from grievous self-pity and dark depression.

Many years later my gratitude journal was an inverse way to avoid feeling sorry for myself. Instead of asking “why me, God,” I was able to focus on the myriad blessings of my life and feel thankful even while struggling with pain and fear.

I won’t claim that my gratitude journal saved my life. I attribute that to early detection. But it did help me through multiple surgeries and a long recovery process. And it continues to bless me every day.
13. Mammograms
14. New friends
15. Good mental health

Because I Said So

Heidi