Abundance in absence: Why I’m grateful for the things I don’t have

Ian Freimuth/Creative Commons

It was the calm before the storm, or the meal, as it usually is every fourth Thursday of November.

In a small suburb in California, a little girl listened to her stomach, focused her eyes and stuck her fork in a plate full of homemade mashed potatoes. But just a second before nirvana…

“And what are you grateful for?” they asked. The girl’s stomach grumbled. The youthful utterance of “damn.”

From the paper-clothed kiddy table, she looked up shyly and met the eyes of the overlords that were her parents, older siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

“My friends, my family and a…hmm…” she answered, which after the bellowing and twitching of her brothers and cousins was often followed by “food” or “the things I have.” And we’d dig in.

“What are you grateful for?”

It’s a loaded question on anyone’s plate. Gravy or no gravy. Thanksgiving or no Thanksgiving.

For a long time, even after I became a teenager, I didn’t put much effort into answering the question, especially when the Black Friday frenzy was only five hours after the Thanksgiving frenzy –– my thoughts were on the food in front of me and whether my parents, friends and I could get one of the two 50-inch flat screen TVs for 100 bucks or less at Target, and how so-and so had to battle two moms and a biker for one last year.

It seemed that the obvious response, besides being grateful for the people I care about, was stuffing and stuff –– the material stuff. But as I’ve gotten older, the “stuff” started to hit the fan at certain points in my life, and it became the things I didn’t get and didn’t have that I felt the most grateful for, apart from my loved ones. For a long time, the ownership of “things” defined me, but I came to realize that the things I didn’t have in my life actually helped me to be genuinely more grateful for the things I do have. Here’s some things on my list that I’m grateful I don’t have or didn’t receive, in no particular order:

1.  I am grateful for the high school romantic relationship that didn’t work out. You know those times when we are so blinded by liking someone that we don’t really see what’s best for us, only later realizing we’ve avoided what could have been disastrous.

2. I am grateful for not doing the best on the ACT the first time around. I once overheard that a UC Berkeley student with the same score as me stopped another student with a near-perfect score from excessively bragging about his test performance. He simply told him, “I got 10 points below that, see you in lecture.” It was getting a lower score that pushed me to do better the second time around, but it was UC Berkeley that gave me a chance nonetheless.

3. I am grateful for not getting into Stanford. Yes, it was the school I thought was my dream school for years, but it never really was. If I had gotten in, I never would have experienced the real authenticity and “hell yeah” that is Berkeley.

4. I am grateful for the time we spent searching for answers to why I was ill and thought the diagnoses would be a serious illness. I lived in fear and anxiety for a long time, but I’m beyond grateful I didn’t have it. Without that experience though, I would never be the strong person I am today.

5. I am grateful for the times I didn’t get the right answer, both in lecture and outside the classroom. LIKE NOT EVEN CLOSE TO THE RIGHT ANSWER. On the first day of an environmental class my freshman year, I remember sidelining our professor’s question with some random, probably wiki-sourced conspiracy about the bubonic plague, much to the general class’s amusement. But it’s these times when I am discouraged or embarrassed that inspire me to try again, to push harder. By being resilient without being afraid to fail or not earn someone’s approval, we make success that much sweeter.

6. I am grateful for the student organizations and clubs that said no. Thinking back, they weren’t the right fit. If it weren’t for those no’s, I wouldn’t have met the friends who became like a second family to me. I am even grateful for the organizations and clubs I applied to more than once. If I was really meant to join them, I would. Such experiences remind me that sometimes you need to put in a lot of effort if you truly want something.

7. I am grateful for that one kid in lecture who always asks a question, citing page 564, bottom paragraph, line five. They inspire me to get my act together.

8. I am grateful for the friends who left me because they didn’t accept me for who I am and wanted me to be just like them. In the words of Ariana Grande, “thank u, next.” It also made me realize what a true treasure my real friends are and that I don’t have to be just like them.

9. I am grateful for all the times that I have jaywalked on Berkeley streets and almost learned my lesson the hard way.

10. I am grateful for all the times a Kiwi Bot or corgi or llama made me two minutes late for a class. The Snapchat and my mental well-being were totally worth it.

11. I am grateful for all the times my friends and I can’t get seats in Moffit. We always end up finding a better place instead.

12. I am grateful for the times when my bank account is so low that it’s scary. It motivates me to work more and work harder. It reminds me that I’m still an adult in progress who will eventually get there. So, to all the times my wallet has suffered as a consequence of my boba addiction, thank you.

13. I am grateful that I don’t have a car on campus. It allows me to work off that boba-heavy diet.

14. I am grateful every time I can’t access the main school network, AirBears. There’s always CalVisitor.

15. I am grateful for every time I don’t get the grade I want and I get a grade less hoped for. I’m talking about those 10-page essays, those 30 percent-of-our-grade finals or even those small things that can go awry. If it weren’t for those, I wouldn’t have learned to manage my time better, to improve my work ethic, to become a better writer, and the list goes on…

16. All the things that  I won’t get in the future, because their existence doesn’t define me. Also, sometimes the things you don’t have make room for even better things to come.

When it comes to what I’m grateful for, my friends and family will always be the most important to me. And while I will always be grateful for food, my home and all the material things I have – –hell, even for the sales on Black Friday — some of the biggest things on my mind will be the things I didn’t get. However, even if I don’t voice this appreciation out loud this holiday season, I acknowledge that these areas of lacking have shaped and continue to shape me into who I am. With this new perspective, I’ve realized that supposed insufficiencies in my life are really moments to be cherished.  

Contact Kristen Hull at [email protected]