Anne O. Kubitsky has amassed a collection of postcards filled with sincere expressions of gratitude in What Makes You Grateful? (Globe Pequot Press, 2013). What began as a personal pick-me-up after a traumatic event turned into much more when Kubitsky left blank postcards in public places, inviting others to share what makes them grateful. The following excerpt gives the background of the Look for the Good Project, and a look at how one man learned to be grateful for life.
It started innocently enough. On a whim—one crisp, fall day in October of 2011—I printed 500 invitation cards asking people to share a glimmer of gladness on a postcard and distributed them in post offices, parks, cafes, community centers, libraries, and anywhere I went. I thought it might be fun and wondered if anyone would write back. And to my delight, people did. Within three weeks I was getting handmade postcard responses from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Texas, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Germany, Australia . . . and now, two years later, I have thousands of responses from all over the world—letters, e-mails, postcards, text messages, phone calls, music, and art of all kinds. In fact, I got so many responses that I’ve hosted a number of exhibits, shared the cards online and in the media, and I unexpectedly went through a lot of healing.
You see, about twelve years before this project began, I went through a traumatic sexual assault that I never fully processed. Still in my teens, I found the experience so upsetting that I bottled it up for the next decade, hiding behind philosophy and science to distance myself from the pain. In fact, I couldn’t even remember the whole thing until just a few years ago. That’s why these postcards have been so healing.
Little by little, postcard by postcard, I began to see that I wasn’t alone. We all have bad things that happen to us. We each have something we regret. But the question is: What do you do about it? Do you get stuck in the drama of the experience and use it as an excuse to stay angry and afraid? Or do you use it as an opportunity to learn a little more about life, love, peace, happiness, and all the intangible qualities that make life great? That’s what this project is helping me do—learn. And I hope that’s what it does for you, too. Because there’s always something to be grateful for. We just have to be open enough to see it.
For example, to keep this project going, I had to consolidate my expenses—selling all my stuff and giving up my apartment. I lived in a small space on the second floor of a beautiful old house overlooking the Connecticut River. Raspberries grew along the wooded paths, deer frequented the neighborhood, I could bicycle to the farmers’ market, and everything was quiet and serene. So, as you might imagine, it was very hard to let go—especially because the move put me in the position of breaking up with my boyfriend and bouncing from house to house working as an overnight petsitter. And as challenging as this has been, it has taught me so much about being present and grateful moment by moment. Money, food, clothes, friendships—resources keep appearing even though I myself have very little. That’s why I think that there’s something magical about this question: “What Makes You Grateful?” It rolls around in your head until your heart opens, your eyes soften, and your whole life begins to reorganize.
At least that’s what’s happening for me.
So if you’re having trouble seeing the good, it’s OK. Gratitude is hard work. It is not easy to be grateful sometimes, especially when you’re in the middle of a loss or transition. Yet it’s possible. So wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, take a moment to contemplate: What makes YOU grateful? You don’t have to know it now. Just ask the question. Sit with it. And let yourself be inspired by the many voices within this book.
Listen to the beating of your own heart. It is speaking to you now, waiting for you to hear it and respond to its call of love.
Close your eyes and take a deep breath. You are ALIVE! Life is the most precious gift. Yet how often do we take the time to notice it? The fact that a trillion cells are working right now to ensure that you are conscious and able to read this book is a miracle! To be awake . . . alive . . . to feel . . . to see . . . to taste . . . to hear . . . everything is a gift. And to receive these gifts, all we need is gratitude.
Joe Galiette, on why he's grateful for life:
Since I was three years old, I spent two weeks every September in an oxygen tent recovering from a yearly bout with asthma. When I was six, I took voice lessons to help me control my breath. But it wasn’t until I was twelve that I finally got the asthma under control. The early signs and symptoms alerted me to do some relaxation and breathing exercises and I would stop whatever I was doing to take care of myself.
I think this is why I excelled so much at sports. With pure oxygen nourishing my cells for two weeks every year as a child, I seemed to have sharper senses than my peers. I could see farther, hear better, and jump higher than my friends. To me, I just thought the others were lazy, and it wasn’t until high school that I realized I had some gifts. I excelled in baseball, football, track, tennis, and was offered a full scholarship to three colleges, including Notre Dame for football, and the University of Hartford for tennis. I didn’t take them because I was already married and settled into a blue-collar life that I thought was going to make me very happy and successful.
However, eleven months into my marriage, I was drafted into the army and spent my first anniversary in basic training. I trained as an infantryman for deployment to Vietnam. When I was inducted, I told them I had a history of asthma and the recruiting officer said it didn’t apply to me since I hadn’t been treated for it for almost ten years. That realized, I conceded to my sense of ethics and tried my best to be a good soldier. Although my asthma often got in the way, I did my best to be all I could be and quickly advanced to the “Point” position in my platoon. The Point is the scout soldier, usually thirty meters ahead of everyone else. And as I trained for this, I became more and more prone to asthma attacks.
By the time we were scheduled to deploy in two days, I was coughing with every breath—hardly the condition I should be in to do my job. We were quarantined and confined to our barracks, rendering it against military orders to move around the compound. By threat of court martial, anyone violating this order would be tried for desertion. But I couldn’t be deployed with this condition. I needed medicine to quiet the cough. My platoon was relying on me. Although my Superior Officers forbade it, I made my way to the hospital to see the doctor. My regular doctor wasn’t there and instead, there was a Sergeant Major filling in. I told my story and he listened attentively. When he heard enough, he stopped me and asked if I could wait in his office. In a few minutes he joined me with a huge book in his hands. I commented on its size and wondered if he would possibly find the right medicine in it. He flipped page after page until he exclaimed, “Here’s what I’m looking for!” He looked at me and said, “Son, you’re going home. The army regulation I’ll read you specifically directs that no one with a history of asthma shall be allowed into the military.” He prescribed some medicine and ordered a battery of tests to determine my sensitivities. He wrote an order to my captain to release me immediately.
It took two more months to process me off the base. During that time, half my unit was killed in the first deployment. Even if I had been there, I was told by wounded returnees that there would have been nothing I could have done—the choppers dropped the platoon right into an ambush. At the time, my wife was eight months pregnant.
I am grateful for the affliction that kept me on the sidelines and saved my life; I am grateful to have been there when my Trisha and Jason were born. All that came after is the proverbial and grateful icing on the cake.
This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from What Makes You Grateful?: Voices from Around the World by Anne O. Kubitsky and published by skirt!, an imprint of Globe Pequot Press, 2013.