Saturday, March 17 , 2018, 5:31 pm | Mostly Cloudy 56º


Susan Estrich: The Path to True Gratitude

To be thankful is to accept the things in life that turn out better than they might have otherwise.

The woman going up in the medical building elevator with me was so young and beautiful and carefree that it took my breath away. Young and beautiful is not so unusual in Beverly Hills. But carefree?

Susan Estrich
Susan Estrich
I looked to see if she was carrying a case — a sure sign of a drug company representative — but she wasn’t. I half followed her, looking to see if maybe there was an obstetrician or a dentist or a spiritual healer I hadn’t noticed among the internists, cardiologists, and ear, nose and throat types on the floor. But no, not a one. Could she be someone’s driver? Nope. She walked straight up to the desk on the other side of the reception area to get the forms for more tests.

I know I was that young once. I’m quite certain I was never that beautiful. But it was the carefree part I couldn’t stop thinking about. Was I ever that carefree? Had life been so good to her that she had not yet learned to fear what might lurk around the next corner?

These days, I spend a lot of time trying not to worry. I think about the ocean when I’m trying to push away the other thoughts. I think about the ocean a lot.

My doctor was telling me how, when he sits down with his family this week, they will go around the table and each person will say what they are thankful for. Children sometimes have trouble thinking of what to say. The older you are, the easier it gets.

I remember a time, many years ago, when my biggest worry on Thanksgiving was whether Marblehead would beat Swampscott in a game of football that almost everyone — winners and losers — would forget about the next day. In those days, I worried about such things as whether my sister would make fun of me for being chubby, whether my mother would actually sit at the table, and who would get stuck doing the dishes. I didn’t really understand what it meant to be thankful because I didn’t really understand loss. The irony, of course, is that the more pain you face, the more you have to be thankful for.

My parents are both gone. My brother and sister are far away. It hasn’t been easy for any of us. I have faced defeats far more crushing than the Thanksgiving football game, lost friends I loved dearly, spent too many days sitting in too many hospitals praying in case it helped. I can’t imagine ever being as carefree as I was on those Thanksgivings so long ago, or as the young and beautiful woman in the elevator.

But I have learned what it means to be thankful. To be thankful is to understand that things don’t have to work out, no matter what you do, that life is not always fair, no matter how hard you try, that being good and doing good don’t guarantee anything, not even a night’s sleep.

Knowing that can leave you angry and bitter and disappointed, and like most people, I sometimes feel that way, sometimes more often than I’d like. But it can also illuminate the path to true gratitude: to being grateful for things that turn out better than they might, to friends who are still there, to the family I have. I know too much to be carefree. But the other half of that is that I know enough to be grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving. God bless.

Best-selling author Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >