Contributing Author: Susan Broderick, Program Director, NDAA
When I sat down yesterday and started writing this blog, I was happy and upbeat. With Thanksgiving approaching, I wanted to focus on the importance of gratitude. The timing seemed perfect. I wrote for a bit, and then decided to take a break and get some fresh air. When I opened my front door, I discovered that my parking space was empty — my car had been stolen!
After the initial surprise passed, I sat on the stoop, pulled out my phone and called 911. As I sat in the sun waiting for the police to respond, I realized that it was a stunning autumn day. I closed my eyes and felt the warmth of the sun on my face. About twenty minutes later, an officer responded and after giving him all my information, we ended up talking about possibly collaborating on a project to build relationships between police and youth! After that, I had to call the insurance company and I am now in the process of getting a rental car.
This morning, I sat back down to write and thought that I might have to change the entire theme of this blog. How could I write about gratitude after my car was stolen? But then it dawned on me — I was still grateful. Not for my car being stolen, but just for my life overall. I was feeling grateful that I had insurance, that it would cover a rental car and that my old car was not in the best shape anyway. I was also surprised that even when I first realized the car was gone, I never panicked. I have felt an inner calmness throughout all of this, and I believe that it is the realization that in the grand scheme of things, this was not that big of a deal.
This type of attitude is not something that I was born with, and in fact I believe I was originally wired to find the worst in every situation. The crazy thing is that the gradual change in my mindset has been the result of some of the biggest challenges of my life. Certain events, which I thought were the worst days of my life, ended up bringing new insight and understanding, and taught me important lessons about perspective.
I made the decision to get sober in 2001. It was certainly not a banner day in my mind and I truly thought that my life was over (at least any part of my life that involved having fun!). From the very beginning I was told to write down five things I was grateful for every day. I thought the suggestion ludicrous and couldn’t understand how it related to staying sober but played along because I was willing to do whatever they told me to do. Slowly but surely, I found that making the list every day put me on a constant look-out for things to be grateful for. And soon I learned that sometimes it is not the event or thing itself that is positive, but how we react and process it.
I spent several years doing my best to find things to be grateful for, but the true turning point came about because of breast cancer. In 2007, I discovered a lump, only to be told by a radiologist that they did not see anything. I pushed for a sonogram and they found the cancer. In 2009, I discovered another lump and my concerns were once again dismissed. When my doctor said, “it’s probably scar tissue,” I told him that “probably” is not a term I am comfortable with and I wanted a biopsy.
A few days later he called with the bad news. I collapsed into my mother’s arms and was immediately consumed with fear. That night I called my sponsor, barely able to speak through my sobbing. After I finished sharing the news, she sighed and then said, “Once again, the stars have aligned for you.”
I was not sure what she was talking about and told her I did not see it that way. She went on to ask, “How many people get to save their own life two times? With both of these incidents, you pushed for more tests and you saved your own life two times!”
Suddenly, I was overcome with an enormous sense of relief. My breathing slowed down and the tears stopped. I did save my life. Two times. In the matter of a few minutes, the despair turned to hope and gratitude for having been so persistent about those additional tests. As that reality settled in, I recognized that nothing had really changed in terms of the situation (I still had breast cancer) but everything had changed in terms of my attitude about it.
An attitude of gratitude, a slogan I initially dismissed, has become one of the most important themes of my life. Life is going to be constantly presenting us with challenges (this past year has been a doozy), but within each experience is an opportunity to find the good. Some of the worst experiences of my life (9/11 and my father’s death) had no obvious silver linings at first. However, even in those instances, I was able to tap into an inner source of strength that I did not even know existed. And that was the gift.
Given the challenges that 2020 has brought to all of us, it is easy to point out the negative and feel surrounded by a sense of hopelessness. Pointing out the problem may be a necessary first step but focusing on solutions is how we build resolve and resiliency. While looking for silver linings may sound like a line out of a fairytale, I have found it to be one of the greatest tools I have in responding to the current demands of an unprecedented time.
My stolen car is not the end of the world. I am grateful for my insurance and for the kindness of the police officer, the insurance agent, and the rental company. The car was getting old anyway and I had been thinking about a new one, so looks like that decision has been made. Perhaps, most importantly, is the recognition that it is only a car. I may be inconvenienced for a day or two, but in the grand scheme of things, it is just not a big deal. What truly matters in life — my family, my friends, my desire to help others in and out of the justice system — all remain intact. Things may not be perfect, but everything is just fine. And I am so grateful for that.
Susan Broderick is a Program Director with the National District Attorneys Association, where she is also the staff liaison for the Well-being Task Force.