“Giving Thanks, not Giving Up,” May 26, 2020

Growing up, I was often told by my mother and grandmother and all of my aunts — women who were world class worriers — that worrying is not only a sin, but a big waste of time.

Always hope for the best, they said, but make dang sure you’re prepared for the worst.

The difference, I realized, in worrying and being prepared is this: One lets you sleep in peace. The other keeps you awake and makes you a pain to be around.

I started worrying when I was 4, the day my brother Joe was born premature and hairless, like a fist with eyes. He spent weeks in an incubator, after which we were told he had cerebral palsy, might never walk, and was totally blind.

For Joe, things often seemed to go from bad to worse. Surgeries aimed at helping his legs only made them weaker. Going to school meant leaving home as a little boy to live with strangers in a dorm. Finding a job and a sense of independence would prove nearly impossible.

His life has been a litany of loss. More than his eyesight and the use of his legs, Joe lost four of the people he loved most. Our mother; his wife; our stepfather; and our younger brother.

He lives alone now in public housing, where packages get stolen off his porch. Does his own cooking and laundry. Goes to church every Sunday, if his legs don’t hurt too much.

But for every heartache and disappointment, Joe has said thanks. Thank you, Lord. Thank you, family. Thank you, friends. He has taught me by example that gratitude builds hope. If we are mindful of all the ways that we’ve been blessed, it’s easier to believe we’ll be blessed again.

I live in California. Joe and our sister live in South Carolina. We keep in touch by phone. When I called Joe yesterday, I said, “Hey, darlin’, how you doin’?”

“I’m OK,” he said, “I guess.”

Joe is never just OK. He could be on fire and insist he’s fine.

“What’s up?” I said.

“Well, I’ll just tell you. My legs are burnin’ and hurtin’ bad.”

Joe wears braces that help him walk, but they sometimes cause problems, even infections.

“Did you call your doctor?”

“Not yet. Maybe tomorrow.”

I think he was stalling so he could listen to a rebroadcast of a Clemson football game on TV.

I never nag him. I leave that to my sister, a retired nurse who inherited the nagging gene from our mother. I called her next.

“His legs are hurting bad,” I said. “Don’t tell him I told you.”

“Oh, Lord,” she said. “I’ll call you back after I talk to him.”

Minutes later she called again.

“He needs to go the ER,” she said, “but he won’t listen to me!”

She would drag him to the ER if she could, but she can’t see well enough to drive at night.

“He never listens,” I said. “He’ll go when he’s ready.”

Hours later, when he couldn’t stand the pain, Joe called 911.

My sister phoned me this morning with a full report. Joe was in the hospital getting IV antibiotics for infections in both legs. He’ll probably be there for a few days. So far, in 12 hours, he’d had three trays of food.

I called him right away.

“Hey, darlin’, how you doin’?”

“Hey, Sister!” he whooped, “I’m doin’ fine, considering!”

Yes, he was on pain meds. We talked about everything and nothing. Finally, Joe said this:

“Don’t worry about me, Sister. I’m just thankful the Lord was looking out for me and gave me all these good people — the EMTs and doctors and nurses — to take such good care of me.”

I’m thankful for all of that, too.

Now, more than ever, in the dark of this pandemic, we need to see clearly, like my brother, not with our eyes, but with our hearts. Gratitude is a light that shines in the soul, turning worry into hope, fear into joy, weakness into strength and worriers into warriors.

What are you thankful for?

Comments

  1. Please give Joe our best.

  2. Kate Sciacca says:

    Thankful for you. Thankful for my #3, Joe, who turned 37 today 🙂. Prayers for your Joe. I’ve never met a Joe I didn’t like 😉.

    Prayers continue for dear Katie.

  3. Fred Hernandez says:

    I am grateful for a good woman who loves me, a home where we are safe, a dog who loves to be loved, and good friends who miss us too.

  4. George says:

    Nailed it, buddy!

  5. Janet Mann says:

    We all have SO much to be thankful for – just living in AMERICA – even with all its faults. I think about your brother Joe often when I start complaining about an ache or pain or whining about something that is going on. How strong in his faith he is. I just pray for the faith of a mustard seed to make it through each day. Thank you for your columns. They help and inspire more people than you’ll ever know. HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY! and many more to come. 🙂

  6. Katie says:

    I am thankful for love in the midst of pain. Katie

  7. Verna Robertson says:

    I have missed your column in our paper, Abilene TX I guess it is because of what’s going on in the world . Hope your family is well. A Fan .

  8. Wrennah Gabbert says:

    Thanks again Sharon …. for sharing….I’m grateful for YOU and your talent of sending the words in a story that provide light and peace in this uncomfortable “dark” time.
    Tell your brother hello and best wishes for a smooth, uncomplicated recovery from a Nurse and Teacher in San Angelo (in West) Texas.

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