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700 cloockA couple of days ago, at 6:50 p.m., I said to my young adult son, “I’m going out for a haircut.”

“It’s almost 7:00,” he said.

“I know,” I answered. “I have a 7:00 appointment.”

“But it’s almost your bedtime.”

I took offense. I promise you, I do not go to bed at 7:00. How old does he think I am? (For the sake of full disclosure, I will admit to sometimes being in my pajamas by 7:30 just so I’m comfortable for my evening writing session. But that is not the same as being too old to go out at 7:00.)

Then my hairdresser made the sort of comment a lot of people make at this time of year. “Wow, can you believe the year is almost over?”

Also for the sake of full disclosure, I do feel some panic about that fact. I blinked and I’m another year older. My question, though, is not “Where did the year go?” but “How well did I enjoy my life this year?”

It’s been a year with plenty of heartbreak: my brother’s sudden death in March, the fright of another brother’s unexpected aortic valve replacement, moving my mother into assisted living and seeing myself in 30 years in a way I never have before, scrambling to make a living and not always feeling like I have much to show for the effort.

And I find myself pondering the difference between relief and gratitude.

Do I feel relief that I didn’t lose my son, the way my mother lost hers? Or do I feel gratitude for the way my son enriches my life, and the way my brother enriched my life?

Do I feel relief that my daughter finally graduated from college and won’t be asking me to proofread any more papers on subjects I’m not interested in, or do I feel gratitude that she has come safely to the moment of seeing the promise of her own future?

Do I feel relief that the bills are paid, or gratitude for the blessing of work that keeps my family sheltered, fed, and cared for?

Do I feel relief that I don’t have cancer like my friend does, or gratitude for positive well-being in multiple dimensions of my life, not just the medical area?

I suppose you could argue that relief and gratitude are two sides of the same coin, but I don’t want to settle for that. I want a more interwoven gratefulness, a bottomless savoring of the complexity of life, a fanatical sense of the experience of being a human in connection to God.

Henri Nouwen wrote, “Gratitude … goes beyond the “mine” and “thine” and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift.”

Not just the good stuff. All of it. Life is a gift. Don’t let it pass you by.

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