A Master Class in Gratitude

Selena stands guard over her injured friend.
Selena stands guard over her injured friend.

My friend Steve* suffered a near-fatal car accident in early April. It took two Jaws of Life to extract him from his minivan. He woke up 48 hours later in a hospital bed with titanium rods in his legs. His wife recalls that he said, “Just like Wolverine!” before passing out again.

Although he has made great progress, Steve is still several months away from being able to walk. Meanwhile, the other driver—who, according to witnesses, crossed a double yellow line to hit his car nearly head on—strolled away with one arm in a sling.

Not a situation for gratitude, you might think. More like an opportunity to curse the fates, plot revenge, and throw a big old pity party.

I’m sure that Steve and his family, being normal people, have done some of that. But when I talk with him, what I hear isn’t anger or self-pity. It’s a glorious, warm, continuous blaze of gratitude.

Here are a few things Steve is grateful for:

1. The timing. The accident occurred just after he dropped his younger daughter off at middle school. A few minutes earlier, and she would have been in the car. The idea “gives him the shakes” every time he thinks of it. He says, “The best thing about this whole mess is that she wasn’t there.”

2. His life. Everyone who saw the van in the wake of the accident was shocked that Steve survived. “The combined impact speed was 80 miles per hour and the other driver’s vehicle outweighed mine by at least 2,000 pounds,” he recalls.

3. A loving partner. Like many long-term couples, romance wasn’t always top of mind for Steve and his wife. But since he swam back to consciousness in that hospital room, she’s rarely left his side. Steve says, “I’ve realized how much she expresses love through her actions. No mushy sentiment, but every time she puts cream on a wound or checks to make sure I’m comfortable at bedtime, she is showing how much she cares.” He adds, “Until the accident, I didn’t always remember how lucky I was to have this strong, beautiful woman in my life. Now the challenge after I get back on my feet will be making sure I show my love in return.”

4. Family and friends. From Steve’s teenaged daughters, who decorated his recovery room in full Marvel-superhero style, to the friends who made his house wheelchair-ready and brought him coffee every morning, Steve has learned to rely on his village. Not necessarily easy for a retired Air Force, alpha male, but there’s no arguing with the healing effects of all that love.

5. A furry companion. Steve had adopted his first dog shortly before the accident, a pointy-eared mutt named Selena. He was in the hospital for so long that he was sure she’d forgotten him, until he saw her on a physical therapy home visit. “I don’t know what I did to earn that kind of loyalty, but I am grateful,” he says.

Steve still has a long road ahead. He’s healing well, but it will be at least two more months before the bones in his legs can bear his weight. On the up side, “the brain bleed has resolved and my mind is as good as ever. I’m home with my family, and someday I’m going to walk out of this room.”

Not surprisingly, Steve sometimes feels frustrated or depressed. Like the pain, he rides the feeling through. Then he takes a deep breath, pulls up his superhero boots, and counts his blessings. Watching him inspires me to do the same.

*Names have been changed to protect the family’s privacy.

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