By Kristi Jo Jedlicki
The very topic of this question set off a small wave of panic in me, as I tried to make what felt like a "Sophie's Choice" of gratitude.
I have come to recognize and appreciate the people, places and things that are part of my little dog and pony show, so, to give one of them top billing led to massive over thinking on my part. There were the usual contenders, such as my daughters, my family, my friends, my home and so many other people and things that elicit gratitude.
Then, there were the less obvious contenders, like my foray into blogging/writing, surviving and thriving after a life altering bout of depression and anxiety, music that provides the soundtrack for my life and many other hidden gems that enrich my life.
As I narrowed down my gratitude list, it slowly became clear what, or rather who, would ascend to the top spot. I am most grateful for the finest gentlemen in all of Louisville, the guests at the day shelter for homeless men where I have worked for the past five years.
When I tell people where I work, often, I receive a knowing look of sympathy and a comment, such as, "Oh, that must be so depressing" or something to that effect.
My response is that I could tell them stories that would make them cry for days, as well as stories that would make them laugh until they cry. These men come to us for help and hope, and, in return, they have taught us countless, priceless lessons.
I could write volumes about these lessons, but for now I will share one of the most meaningful that one gentleman taught me about the true meaning of being grateful.
On my way to work, I saw some of our guests walking toward the day shelter and congregating on the sidewalk leading to our front doors. When I opened my car door, I was serenaded with the song, "I've Got That Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart," by one of the men.
He sang the song with gusto, and his smile was almost as big as the morning sun that bathed us in warmth and light on that brisk morning.
The man who serenaded me said, "Baby, we love you, and we pray for you. God bless you." I was so touched that I could only manage to say, "I love you all, too, and God bless you all." To that, the singer replied, "Oh, I am so blessed already."
When I said how much I loved to hear that and then inquired why he felt so blessed, his smile broadened, as he responded, "Every day that I wake up is a blessing -- it is as simple as that." As I walked away from them to head inside of the shelter, their words went with me and have been on my mind ever since then, and now they have found their way here.
I find it completely mind-blowing that someone who does not have all the trappings of what we consider successful, or all of the basic necessities of life, could stand outside on a gorgeous morning feeling so blessed.
Most people, me included, would not use that word to describe him and could not imagine using it to describe ourselves if we found ourselves in his well-worn and tattered shoes. Several of the other gentlemen have replied, "I am blessed", when I have asked them how they are, and every single time I hear this genuine response, it humbles and inspires me. It also has led me to start thinking about how I view being blessed in my own life.
Too often, I wait for the ideal situation, the right person, and/or the achievement of elusive perfection in one or more areas of my life to feel blessed or happy, and I overlook the blessings already present in my life.
The gift that these gentlemen offer me every day, if only I choose to accept it, is that each day really is a blessing in and of itself. There's always reason to be happy, no matter how we feel, no matter who is or is not in your life, no matter what you do or do not have and so forth.
So, I started noticing more of the blessings in my life, instead of focusing on the challenges and imperfections, and I gained a new-found gratitude for my life and who and what is in it. Even the smallest of blessings can make the biggest of differences, just ask the finest gentlemen in all of Louisville.
The next time someone asks you how you are, I hope you will think of these gentlemen and answer, "I am blessed."
This blog post is part of a series for HuffPost Gratitude, entitled 'The One Thing I'm Most Thankful For.' To see all the other posts in the series, click here To contribute, submit your 500 - 800 word blogpost to firstname.lastname@example.org.