To be grateful

I dwell on the past because it keeps me grounded in the present. It reminds me to be grateful for all I have.

I hate to see photos of me in my youth, but I look at them to remind myself how far I have come. I remember rejection to be thankful for the warm embrace that followed.

Who was I when I met that woman from an unheard-of village three-thousand miles away? A scrawny young man with an awkward voice and wonky teeth, living in a bedsit in Hanwell, driving a second-hand Ford Fiesta, just into work with barely a penny to my name. That union of ours was so extraordinary that I can only consider it the mercy of our Lord.

We have been through great tests in our life together. They began before we were even married, with all of that opposition to our union. Admittedly we were young and naive then, rushing headlong into marriage no sooner had we met — no wonder my family was alarmed — but perhaps in that there were blessings for us. No, in truth, that woman was my refuge. I needed her more than the world.

For the first few years of marriage together, we lived in a tiny flat in West Ealing, with a leaking roof, freezing cold in winter and sweltering in summer, directly under the flight path for Heathrow airport. We had no garden, but we shared an allotment with friends off Northfield Avenue. Why remember those early days so keenly? To be grateful for what we have now, even if to others it looks like we have nothing.

I faced my first redundancy just months after we were married and I struggled to find meaningful work. I ran a business offering freelance publishing services for a while, but pay was inadequate and inconsistent. Two degrees still hadn’t given me the confidence to pursue what I might call a proper job. I worked for a while in an Internet Cafe on Green Lanes in East London. I later managed a restaurant just of Berkeley Square in Mayfair. I was an embarrassment to the couple who had introduced me to my beloved, and friends continued to censure me frequently.

Eventually I found a way to get my foot in the door for a more meaningful career, starting right at the bottom in a patient records department, sticking labels on boxes. Slowly, very slowly, I worked my way up the ladder to the kind of job some say my Masters degree should have landed me years ago. I remember all this to be all the more appreciative for what I have today.

When I look all around me, I know I am very blessed to have a woman like this at my side. I know many women would have grown weary of my fragile financial status, and would have walked out long ago. In the face of medical problems, I know many marriages would have fallen apart. I know it is a blessing to have been granted a companion with so much patience in the face of so many trials. I remember all of this truly appreciatively.

It is not that either of us are perfect; far from it. We have our foibles. We annoy each other at times. It is not that we don’t have our disagreements. It’s not that I don’t have a big head. It’s not that I’m not frequently an idiot. We are tested and tried like any other couple. But I remember where I came from. I remember my backstory.

Through primary school, I was the shy kid, forever ignored. Through five years of secondary school, I was Billy Nomates. Through college, I was the geek kid. In uni, I was the weirdo with the alcoholic mate, then the total recluse, then the religious fanatic. Up until my mid-twenties, I was impossibly thin, my skin pulled taut over my cheek bones. I was timid and unconfident, with zero ambition or direction.

So of course I am grateful for the blessings I have been bestowed with. I don’t dare entertain some haughty conceit, thinking myself better than this, deserving of something more. No, what I have been granted is so far beyond what I truly deserve. The blessings are immense. I have been joined to a people in a forested valley thousands of miles from here; she has been joined to my tribe. Inexplicably, we were united despite ourselves.

Some say to me, “Stop dwelling on the past.” I say, if I did not dwell on it, I would not recall all of these immense blessings. We all should. Think where you came from and where you are now, and then treasure all that you have been bestowed with. Count your blessings: they’re immeasurable. He found you lost, and guided you.

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