February 15, 2016

The Moment I went from Guilt-Filled to Grateful.

Flickr/Shannon Kringen

I think I was born feeling guilty.

If I could have spoken at birth, I probably would have said, “Mom, sorry I gave you back pains, sore feet and made you eat weird foods.” I then grew up Catholic and went to Catholic school. Catholic Guilt was basically a subject we were taught in school between Science and American History classes.

I’ve stolen the joy out of more moments with my guilt than I would like to admit. If I’m at the beach, I feel bad for people in their offices. If I have an amazing meal, I feel bad for the people who are starving and the people who aren’t starving but who can’t experience the joy of a really good meal.

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Haiti for work, a country plagued with trash-filled streets, where the majority of the population lives without water, electricity or a solid roof over its head. Haiti is a place where no one is safe from violence and political unrest, and hardship is the norm, not the exception.

During this same week my boyfriend traveled for work to San Francisco, home of Super Bowl 50. We were in polar opposite worlds. He in the world of excess, me in the world of extreme hardship.
As I sat down for dinner in the guesthouse where I was the lone lodger, and I reflected on my day. I’d visited orphanages and spent time with dear friends who were better off than many in Haiti because they had jobs, but who were still struggling to feed their families.

As I reflected, my boyfriend texted me that he was on his way to a 17-course dinner. The text shot me with a bullet of guilt, guilt that poured out of me and pooled like blood around me. I was feeling guilty for the excess we Americans live in, for the meal he was going to have and for the meal that sat in front of me.

Suddenly all the joy was drained from not just my life, but I also pulled the joy from my boyfriend’s happy moment. I stopped eating, looked at my food and was repulsed. How could I sit there, enjoying a meal when people all around me were starving? I stared. I thought a little longer.

And then a Haitian friend’s face flashed through me. His three-year-old daughter had gotten Zika virus and as he was on his way to get a prescription for her, he was robbed. It was the last of his money, and his home had no food. I thought about him and how he would want me to feel, and then another thought occurred to me. He wouldn’t want me to feel guilty for my meal. He’d want me to feel grateful I had a meal. I’m pretty sure he was grateful for every meal he’s had. He’d never want me to feel bad about the gifts I’ve been given in this life.

By feeling guilty I was not only robbing joy from my own life, but I was also ignoring his real hardships. Instead of feeling guilt for the many gifts I’ve been bestowed I chose to feel grateful for them, acknowledging how lucky I am. I said a prayer of gratitude for my meal, picked up my fork and continued eating. Just like that, everything changed for me. I felt not guilt, but gratitude.

Over the next few days as I’ve watched Haiti descended into further political unrest and I’ve thought (and I hate to say this), “I can’t wait to get out of here, I can’t wait to be safe.” Again, guilt washed over me, but again I’ve thought of my friend and remembered to feel gratitude for what I have not guilt for what others don’t.

Now every time I feel a pang of guilt I choose to turn it into a jolt of gratitude. This reminder has totally shifted my outlook on life, and, if you give it a try, it might just do the same for you. Take a moment and feel gratitude for the gifts you have, not guilt for those who don’t have those same gifts.


Author: Rebecca Harris

Editor: Jean Weiss

Photo: Sharon Kringen/ Flickr


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