I have a confession: I seriously dislike the word “blessed.” Which is unfortunate, because it shows up in my Facebook newsfeed like eighty times a day. “Having a blessed birthday.” “So blessed to have a job that I love.” “Super blessed to be enjoying this family reunion on a yacht in the south of France.” You get the picture. In fact, you may use the word yourself.
I think people refer to their, well, blessings, for lack of a better word, and label themselves “blessed” because they are trying to make it clear that they are appreciative, thankful, that they know they have it good. Which is wonderful—we should all be mindful of the joys and gifts and even the trivial treats in our daily lives.
But to me the word connotes that we have been chosen for something wonderful, that God or a higher power has elected to bless us with good health, happy kids, a kick-ass vacation, or a career doing what we love. And I suspect that most people who use this term would concur that yes, that is exactly what they believe. These gifts are just that, a gift from their higher power, from the Universe.
And yet there’s something that rubs me just slightly the wrong way about that. So, while you are blessed to have survived cancer or whatever, that guy’s mom who just died wasn’t quite so blessed, eh? The Universe/God/Your Divine Power decided to bless YOU and not HER. Right? And while I may be blessed to enjoy my work and do what I love, the single mom who is working two jobs, both of which she absolutely hates, just to feed her kids, well, not so much, huh. Bummer for her.
A few days ago, my fifth grader and I drove through the bank to deposit my paycheck before attending Mother-Daughter book club in a nice part of our suburban community. My daughter grabbed my arm in the bank drive-thru. “Look, Mommy,” she said, her tone distraught. “We have to help them.” She pointed at a mother with two girls about my own daughter’s age, standing in the grocery store parking lot with a sign asking for help.
“I see them, honey,” I said, feeling a lump form in my throat. “That’s really, really sad.”
I thought of the conversations we had after we were downtown over the holidays, about the homeless people we saw, and why or why not people gave them money. My daughter was sad, she was confused, it was difficult to put into words the complex layers involved in homelessness.
I sat in the parking lot of the bank, paralyzed into inaction. I contemplated the contents of my purse. A $20 I needed to pay our babysitter the next day. Another $20 I had planned to spend on brunch with friends. Nothing smaller.
“We can’t just leave,” my daughter begged. “We have to do something. I feel really sad about this.” So we drove over and handed a twenty-dollar-bill to the mother.
“Thank you, God bless you,” she repeated over and over. “God bless you!” the two daughters called to us.
I don’t know their story. I’m not sure if that woman has made a series of questionable choices, or is running a scam, or is a drug addict, or if she’s just had a hell of a lot of bad luck and is trying her hardest to keep her children safe. All I know is that those two little girls spend their time standing in a grocery store parking lot asking people for money. And whatever their story is, they needed that money more than I did, regardless of the obsessive budgeting and hand-wringing and hard choices I make as to how to spend our family’s money.
Giving them that money made my daughter feel a bit better, but we both knew that $20 was nothing. We drove away, not feeling consumed by some self-congratulatory “Look at us! We made a difference!” vibe, but still filled with sadness. I don’t like the idea that I would be blessed while this woman had been passed over by way of blessings.
I understand that our attribution of good health, family, friends, work, and possessions as a blessing from something larger than we are is part of what makes us human beings searching for meaning, order, and connectedness. I do understand that.
And I am grateful for my safe home, healthy family, memory-filled vacations, and comfortable clothes and beds. God, how I am grateful.
But I do not refer to myself as blessed. I do not believe that an unseen, benevolent force chose to bless me with a couple twenties and a reliable car and a safe place to live and passed by that other woman. I do not believe that I am more deserving of the good things in my life than she is.
You could argue that this is all semantics, and maybe it is. But it’s also about intention. There is a subtle hint of smugness in blessed. To be blessed is to have something happen to you, and it implies exclusivity. Grateful is something that you are, it’s a choice, it’s an action.
I don’t know exactly what type of higher power I believe in, and I haven’t made up my mind in my thirty-eight years about how it all works. I begin and end my day with my own version of connecting to the divine, my source, my guides. I breathe a silent “Thank you for my children; I love them so much,” when I ascend the stairs to kiss them at night, feeling my prayer like it might burst out of my chest. Every once in a while, I say thank you as I count the steps my healthy legs and body take while I am walking, for a short moment aware that a day might come when I am no longer able to walk with ease.
Sometimes when a terrible thing happens, I repeat the phrase, “There, by the grace of God, go I,” as a reminder that it is sheer luck rather than competence or superiority that I was not the recipient of the tragedy. But actually, I don’t believe it is the grace of God that determines whether something shitty happens to you or not. And I don’t think it’s by the grace of God that you win the lottery and never get sick. Like I said, I still really don’t understand how that whole thing works.
So for now, until I do understand it, I will go through my days grateful. So, so grateful.
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