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The Grumpy Person’s Guide to Gratefulness

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There we were—me, my kid, and the two dogs—standing at the cross walk about a half block from the kid’s school. This crosswalk? Let me tell you, it’s been the bane of my parenting existence. It stretches across one of the more traveled roads in our town, a road where cars routinely exceed the 25 mile per hour speed limit. Forget that these drivers are passing through a school zone during school hours. They’re in a hurry to get to jobs that they tell everyone they hate.

Or so my grumpy thinking goes.

At any rate there is no stop sign to slow these speeding drivers and only rarely a crossing guard.

Getting from one side of this road to the other without getting killed in the process? It’s about as easy as getting an eight year old to clean her bedroom.

On four different occasions I’ve been half way across the road when a car has failed to yield. One time as a speeding car careened toward us, I stood frozen in my tracks and yanked both dogs back toward me as I yelled an anxious and muddled combination of the words “car” “stop” “wait” and “no.” It sounded like “carstawahaanooo!”

Understandably, my daughter had no idea what I was trying to tell her, so she ran to the other side of the street. That’s when I closed my eyes.

I think I might have also prayed, but it all happened so quickly that I’m not really sure.

When I opened my eyes, the car was right in front of me, its front bumper half way through the cross walk, and its driver as pale as someone who just learned she was about to be sent to prison with hardened criminals.

My kid was safe on the other side of the street.

I stared at that driver, raised my arms up in the air and did my best “what the!?!” eye roll. Then I walked on, all the while talking about “idiot drivers” and “people who should have never been given driver’s licenses.”

Ever since that day, just the sight of that cross walk is enough to bring out the worst of my grumpiness. I’ll see it and grumble, “Why don’t they ever have crossing guards here? Don’t they know this is a dangerous intersection?”

When my kid asks why she can’t walk to school by herself, a look will come across my face and I’ll say, “That crosswalk is why.” That ends the conversation.

And so it was today, as we approached the crosswalk, I grumpily mumbled, “You know no one will stop for us here.”

I stood there mentally seething, just waiting to be proven right.

Can you guess what happened next?

That’s right. A car stopped and the driver waved us across.

I waved back and smiled.

Then I laughed at myself. Really? No one ever stops for us? Ever?

In that moment it was clear to me that 95 percent of drivers who see us standing on the edge of the cross walk do slow to a stop, just as it was clear to me that a volunteer crossing guard worked that corner nearly half the time, if not more.

Of the 5 percent of drivers who don’t stop, probably four percent of them would do so if they weren’t daydreaming, talking on their phones, half asleep, or in need of a LASIK surgery.

But it’s the rare driver—the one who speeds up and tightens his facial muscles in a “this is war and I’m winning” expression—that I remember.

Mean people are memorable, after all. Kind people? They are too easily forgotten.

Are you with me?

While grumpy people like us are obsessing over the rare mean driver, though, we miss the wonder and awesomeness all around us: the drivers who give us the right of way, the people who hold open a door for us, or even the spouse who says, “I like your hair cut.”

Grumpiness comes easily, but gratitude does not. It’s for this reason that many smart experts suggest we practice it. With the Thanksgiving Holiday upon us, many people are celebrating “grateful November,” publicly giving thanks at least once a day. I see many of their postings on Facebook and Twitter. They are thankful for chocolate, wine, sunsets, humor, sale items, and cute babies.

While there’s nothing wrong with being thankful for such things, our gratitude practice becomes much more powerful when we notice the kindness of others. It’s easy to feel grateful for chocolate and sunsets. It’s much harder to feel thankful for living beings, especially when some of them don’t stop for children and dogs in a crosswalk. Here’s more: feeling thankful for living beings brings a warm feeling to our harts. It allows us to feel accepted and loved, and that helps us to love people right back.

If you strive to make love and not war, feeling thankful for living beings—even the occasionally annoying ones—is a great place to start.

So on this day I’m thankful for kind drivers who notice mothers, children and dogs in cross walks and come to a stop. I’m also thankful for people who volunteer their time as crossing guards.

And I’m thankful for people who paint cross walk lines onto streets, too.

I’m even thankful for drivers who fail to stop for a pedestrian once, are scared straight, and vow to never ever make the same mistake again.

And you know what? I’m thankful for school teachers, because teachers are exceptionally kind to our children, even when they misbehave. Sometimes those teachers are kind enough to make sure our kids get across streets safely.

And I’m thankful for school bus drivers, too.

I’m also thankful for people who figure out where stop signs and traffic lights should go. That’s important work, and we need kind people to do it.

That’s a lot to be thankful for in just one day, and I’m feeling pretty dang good about it all.

How about you? What beings are you thankful for and why?

A professional journalist, Alisa Bowman is a columnist for Prevention magazine and the author of Project: Happily Ever After, a memoir of how she saved her marriage. If you enjoyed this post, you will love her updates on Facebook and Twitter. Read more of her work on ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com.

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