Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | February 13, 2007

An atypical attitude about gratitude

As a nasty virus made its presence unpleasantly and unmistakably known late last Monday night, I tossed and turned in bed, too miserable to sleep and irritated by a high-pitched, wobbly electrical whine. Although I had noticed it the last few nights, I’d successfully ignored the sound. This night, the whine grated my very last nerve. However, also on this night, on one of my many trips to the bathroom, I discovered the source of the bothersome noise – the Roomba on its charger – and silenced it.

Then, despite my intestinal agony, I luxuriated in the absence of the irksome racket. As I sank into the soft pillow of peace and quiet, I wondered: What am I most grateful not to have in my life? What do I most appreciate for its absence?

It’s an atypical approach to gratitude, to be sure. But I was inspired by the lack of the pesky electrical whine, and likely influenced by a triple-digit fever.

Perhaps because I’m a mother, and perhaps because authorities had just made more detailed allegations against suspect Michael Devlin in the cases of the two missing Missouri boys found in his apartment, the first thing that came to mind was this: I was grateful that no one like suspect Michael Devlin has infected my family.

I don’t know how the victims or their families begin to recover from the kind of abuse that those two Missouri boys are alleged to have suffered, one for four days, the other for four years.

I’m incredibly grateful that learning how hasn’t been among the burdens that my family has had to shoulder.

And I don’t know how anyone can find anything but sympathy for those boys and their loved ones, except perhaps for a generous dose of “there but for the grace of God” humility and gratitude.

Despite that, one blowhard had a different reaction. Incredibly, television pundit Bill O’Reilly questioned why an 11-year-old didn’t run away from the 300-pound kidnapping suspect, saying on his television show on Jan. 15 that “there was an element here that this kid liked about his circumstances” and “the situation here for this kid looks to me to be a lot more fun than what he had under his old parents. He didn’t have to go to school. He could run around and do whatever he wanted.”

I’ve written numerous times about my distaste for O’Reilly. This episode cements it. I keep my TiVo season pass to “Countdown With Keith Olbermann” ranked high. Olbermann’s smart and witty writing and delivery are reason enough to watch his show, but there’s more: Olbermann gleefully shares my opinion of O’Reilly. I cheer every time the Fox News blowhard earns Olbermann’s nomination for “Worst Person in the World.” Olbermann gives me frequent opportunities to cheer.

After last Monday night, every time I see “Bill O.” on Olbermann’s Worst list, I’ll enjoy remembering how intestinal distress put me on a train of thought that ended with Bill O’Reilly.

So, here’s another item for my atypical approach to gratitude list: I’m grateful that no one can ever confuse me with Bill O’Reilly.

The differences are obvious, of course. I’m a short, female, libertarian-leaning liberal; he’s a tall, male arch conservative. I write for a small-town newspaper; he writes a widely syndicated column and hosts a television show and a radio show. He has an audience, inexplicably, of millions.

He overshadows me in many ways, including in bullying, blowhard punditry. I’m eternally grateful for that.

When we take the time to be grateful, it’s most often for the things we do have – we count our blessings. Last Monday night, I took a different tack. I counted a few challenges I was grateful not to have encountered in my 43 years.

Of course, such a list could be endless. It could include any number of diseases, afflictions, conditions, and situations. I’m grateful not to be homeless. I’m grateful not to be mentally ill. I’m grateful not to have survived the death of a child. I’m grateful not to live in North Korea or Iraq or Darfur. And that intimidating infinity is probably why we are more inclined to count our blessings than to count our happily missing challenges.

But it’s an interesting exercise. Try it the next time you’re bemoaning something you’re suffering through. You might just find a new attitude about gratitude.

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