A week ago, I counted twenty-seven blessings. Two days ago, I couldn't get past twelve. Does reduced toe-itch from consistent application of athlete's foot cream count as a blessing? Most days, I can count my children as a blessing (or two, if I count them individually), but if I wait till evening—that twilight hour of familial frustration—then I'm generally ambivalent about adding them to my tally. Too few blessings on my list feels like a failure of appreciation, which makes me disappointed with myself, which makes it harder to count blessings. Writing things like, I'm grateful for my stupid, lazy mind doesn't feel productive.
Many blessings only seem like blessings once they're gone: running water, flushing toilets, safety razors, central heat, my health, eating in restaurants. It's easy to go big: the orbits of the planets, the miracle and improbability of life-in-a-universe-of-mostly-empty-space-type-stuff. But going too small can feel a little . . . desperate. If blessings are supposed to feel like blessings, then listing shoes with ample tread doesn't make much of a psychological impact. How about the internet? If I want to feel grateful for that, don't I have to include my laptop and its circuitry and silicone wafers and underpaid people working in horrible factory conditions? You see what a slippery slope counting your blessings can become: get too far down that numbered list and very often I conclude that blessing number thirty-eight is someone else's misery.
I'm picturing a pocket-sized self-help book on the shelf of my local Covid-closed independent bookstore reminding me that counting my blessings is not really about counting my blessings, but more about nudging me into a grateful frame of mind. It's the practice of gratitude that matters most, the imaginary book says, not any given list. Still, I'm ambitious, and want my lists to be long. Perhaps I need to create reminders for myself that I can post around the house on sticky notes for when I'm feeling blessing-deficient.
This morning I strategically decided to start my blessing list the moment I woke up: reading glasses, sunshine, four walls and a roof, indoor plumbing, warm slippers, electric toothbrush, a kiss from my wife, children still miraculously asleep, the surreal news on my phone that last month was the first March without a school shooting since 2002. Counting blessings is pretty easy in my bedroom: clean underwear, deodorant, my continued but tenuous ability to put on socks without sitting down. Then I go downstairs. Downstairs is where my family is emerging for the day, and they are in various moods. My daughter's new laptop, which she needs for online school, is no longer charging. A call to the technical service line produces an encouraging message: "Your call is very important to us. Please continue to hold for the next available representative." The message plays while I make an assortment of breakfasts (grateful for eggs, milk, and cereal). The message continues to play every thirty seconds long past breakfast and cajoling the children to get on with schoolwork. When I express frustration that the message has been playing every thirty seconds for the past hour, which means I've heard it well over a hundred times, my son tells me there are 525,600 minutes in a year. "So what," I say. He runs the numbers and reminds me I have only spent 0.0114 % of my year on hold.
"Is that supposed to make me feel better?" I ask.
"It is," he says.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Gratitude is a feeling: warmth, comfort, kindness. A medicine of sorts, to ward off fear, rage, boredom, frustration, lack of control, loneliness. "Your call is very important . . . breakfast burritos. Your call is very important . . . flannel shirts. Your call is . . . Hello? Hello?"
"Hello, sir. Thanks for your patience. How can I help you today?"