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Finding Gratitude in Mistakes

Can a positive attitude turn a mishap into celebration?

Bonnie Pitman
Source: Bonnie Pitman

About a month ago, a fierce craving for Reed’s Ginger Ale put me on a mission. I’d mostly recovered from a virus that left me curled in a fetal position on the tile floor, but my tummy still queased. A friend brought me another brand, but it just didn’t cut it. Local stores no longer carried Reeds, so I sought out the source for all things unfound retail. Amazon.

The next week, I drove up to my doorstep to see 4 large, heavy boxes marked with tape marked FRAGILE. Somehow I’d ordered 500, 12oz bottles of Reeds. This is one of a couple of internet mishaps I’ve had, detail not being my strong suit.

Usually I’d beat myself up over a mistake like this. Idiot. Moron. No one does things like this. The mishap would be a source of jokes for my family for weeks. This time, I decided to take a different tact. I laughed at myself, advertised my mistake and planned a party.

First, I had to get my family to agree to the party. My college-aged kids were home for Thanksgiving with plans of their own and my husband was grumpy that they weren’t spending enough time with us. We boarded the car for the annual kosher bird festivities with my mother-in-law and Ken’s sister’s ultra-orthodox family. I’m Fallen Away Roman Catholic with a touch of Buddhist these days, Ken and the kids and his Mom (Mona) are Jew-Lite. I have no idea what Mona’s 90+boyfriend, Gus, is. Christian-flavored Agnostic would be my guess. One year’s celebration included him playing Hava Naglia on the clarinet as Mona clapped frantically. She accused us of being deadbeats for not joining in.

Julie Hersh
My daughter Rachel making her two types of carrot cake (triple layer and cardamon) between Thanksgiving One and Two
Source: Julie Hersh

As we turned out our driveway to Kosher-giving, I asked Ken and the kids if we could throw a party Saturday night to use up the ginger ale. Everyone agreed. Between our noontime family Thanksgiving and a later gathering with friends, I shot out a few emails explaining our Reed’s surplus. I laid out the plan. Count on solo cups, Ginger Ale, vodka and some easy but tasty appetizers. We can order pizza if a lot of people show up, but I’m not stressing over this. If you want to bring something yummy, bring it on.

Julie Hersh
My son Daniel "helping out" with Thanksgiving preparations.
Source: Julie Hersh

Before I knew it, 45 had responded YES, some with their own tales of their own internet SNAFUs. My daughter and I bonded while making Cosmopolitan Fizz Punch. I impressed myself by creating a decorative ice/fruit ring in a Bundt pan while my husband nervously assessed the situation: How many people are coming for dinner? I smiled and shrugged my shoulders. I spent all day Saturday cooking: Oaxaca Chicken, Shrimp Julie (Ken’s late step father’s recipe) and a Curried Carrot soup from my dear friend Kristi Jamason who I rarely get to see. I felt connected to these folks as I stirred and peeled.

The party, by the way, was great. I invited friends from different groups I’d meant to connect, but never seemed to find the time. The adult party hung in the kitchen while the college party kicked off upstairs by the ping pong table. We saw friends we haven’t seen much since our kids graduated from high school, as well as our kids’ friends, now grown and resembling adults. Who would have guessed such goodness could have emerged from an error online?

But it did. Our Thanksgiving bubbly soiree evolved because I dug for positive instead of dwelling on my mistake.

As many of you may know, I had a depression relapse in August. I had electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) again, and again it miraculously yanked me from suicidal depression. This was my fastest relapse ever, about 6 months whereas previously I’d remained well for 8 years at a time. I relapsed because I failed to follow my own advice. “ECT is not a panacea,” I always advise, “It’s really no different than a bypass for a heart attack. If you go back to an emotional life of burgers and fries, you will relapse in 6 months.”

One of the things I’ve done differently this time it to keep a Gratitude List. Every day I write down 5 things that have happened in the past 24 hours for which I’m grateful. Inspired by the words of my good friend Carol Kivler in this video, I’ve followed this practice religiously. If I miss a day, I write down 10 good things the next day.

I’d heard of this practice before, but never did it. I deemed it anti-intellectual and Pollyannaish. Now I suspect gratitude is changing the way I think. At a recent Ground Rounds where I spoke at the University of Miami, I told the residents that my previous journal entries tended to focus on negative events or irritations in my day. Now I write five positive moments and rarely have time to focus on the negative.

A resident asked “Do you think this helps because you’re not reinforcing down negative things, or that you’re focusing on the positive?” My answer was succinct. Both. As Emmet Fox once said “What you think about grows.”

By planting the seeds of gratitude, I saw 500 bottles of Reeds Ginger Ale and my brain leapt to fun, not futility. Call me Pollyanna, but it beats the heck out of being depressed.

My good friend Bonnie Pitman who does something new every day to remain grateful. She couldn't make the party, but we celebrated afterward with Reeds in the hospital.
Source: Julie Hersh

For more information about Julie K. Hersh or her book Struck by Living, check out the Struck by Living website

PS if you want the recipes for the dishes mentioned, I can post them on my website. Let me know if there’s an interest.

Here's Bonnie's website: