There's nothing that gets the goat of an already miserable person more than someone else swanning around being happy.
Which is why, the week after my 1960s recipe book fruit cake won first prize (hurrah!) at South Zeal Show, I shouldn't have been surprised to find a hostile message in my 'message requests' folder on Facebook. It read, "If you stopped being so self-important and self-congratulatory, you might actually manage to find God".
Pretty powerful passive-aggressive message to send to a vicar, eh?
I scrolled back down my timeline to see what might have upset the man, or whether it was simply being chuffed about the cake ... and the answer was pretty clear. It was my appreciations.
I don't call them "gratitudes" because I remember, as a child, being told to be grateful for all sorts of things I didn't want, including kisses from my Uncle, sugared almonds from Grandma and the food on my plate that made me feel nauseated.
Instead, I post "appreciations" three or four times a week, on Facebook -- a list of things that I appreciate in my life. It's a long list nowadays, including a much-loved husband, two beautiful beagles, a wonderful home, a wonderful job, faith, health and happiness. And that was exactly what had pissed this gentleman off.
I took a look at his timeline which was chock-full of complaints about people not asking after him when he'd been ill and a load of political memes of blame and allegations of corruption. This was not a happy man.
Of course, he thought I was just bragging about the goodness in my life and, looking back at the appreciations, I could see just why he would get that view. But the thing is, I'm pretty darn sure that my life is this good because of the appreciations.
You see, I started them when things were pretty miserable in my life too. It should have been wonderful; I already had the loving husband and the beagles and we had just moved to a new home in Devon. But at the same time, the two jobs that I had been expecting to take up with the move both fell apart and I received a very scary medical diagnosis. Not only was I not earning (with a new home that was not going to pay for itself) but I wasn't going to be able to earn much for quite some time, and my husband was going to have to balance his self-employment with taking care of me.
Even worse, I was just setting out as a stand-up comedian (for which the two jobs were going to be the support-mechanism). I'd never felt less funny in my life.
So, you could basically say that life sucked.
Except that life never totally sucks. There is always something that can be appreciated even when your heart is totally broken. I can say that, I think, because I've been widowed and divorced, had a failed emigration, lost my home and my money...and always bounced back.
There's the sunrise, the leaves on the trees, the beauty of the clouds and the starlight at night. There's a cup of green tea or a soppy movie on the television if you're too ill to move. There's the sight of birds outside the window or a good book to read. Or if you can't even read, there are audio books or talks and music on You Tube.
I know that because I got too ill even to be able to walk from our front door to the gate in order to look at the beauty of Dartmoor. I couldn't work, concentrate or cook; I couldn't see a definite future and my life was a round of hospital visits and district nurses who came every day to drain upwards of a litre of fluid from my lungs. I couldn't even have a bath because of the drainage tube in my side (and I do like a bath). All I could really do was lie on the bed or the sofa.
There was an awful lot of looking for God too - and God seemed very quiet for a very long time while I still believed that this was either totally unfair or totally deserved (depending on my mood).
Perhaps it was just bloody pig-headedness that kept me writing those appreciations on Facebook. Even when I was too ill to enjoy cuddling the beagles, I could still look at them; when I couldn't focus on a book, I had happy memories to recall. I listened to an awful lot of stuff on YouTube and there was always a cup of green tea made by a loving, anxious husband. And the sicker I got, the more I had to let go. Let go and let God - not what I wanted from God but what God had to give. And the more I did that and appreciated what I still had, the more I found traces of beingness/God inside me.
And as I slowly got better, I could add more and more appreciations to my list: the first dog walk; the last visit from the nurse; the last visit to hospital; the first glass of wine; the first (and many more) hot baths.
Just writing the appreciations focused me on the better things; even before I could get around again I also began to blog about my travels and adventures from earlier in my life; I re-membered myself.
And now I am happy and healthy - I have work here in Devon and friends and a very good life. And I still write the appreciations because I am so, so grateful for everything.
I tried to explain all that to the messenger who was so angry but he wasn't interested. He threw back a short, sharp message -- without checking his auto-correct.
It said: "Go to gel and rock there".
Which made me laugh so much that I couldn't even mind the intention behind it. Bless him, may he one day have something to appreciate of his own. And I might not be using the gel but my life certainly rocks.
And, even if it pisses people off to the nth degree, I shall keep on appreciating my life for as long as I have it.
And I am jolly proud of winning first prize for that fruit cake too!