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It Might Have Been Otherwise

Poet Jane Kenyon


Gratitude is good for our health. As Psychology Today explains, “gratefulness—and especially expression of it to others—is associated with increased energy, optimism, and empathy”; it can also “increase our well-being and happiness.”

But when your Loved One is struggling with addiction, it can be challenging to feel grateful. “But I am constantly worried about my son,” you may say. “Our household is chaotic and draining. You have no idea how hard it is.” “I am constantly fighting with my husband. I am exhausted and at my wit’s end. You want me to be grateful?”

This is a perfectly natural response. I assure you that you’re not alone in your feelings. Many AiR members are experiencing these same emotions. (Be sure to watch Module 7 for more on caring for yourself when negative feelings get in the way.)

But even when life overwhelms us, we remain human. Humor, love, strength, connection, and beauty don’t simply disappear when we are struggling. These beacons are always there. It is just harder to catch sight of them when we are swimming in a sea of negative emotions.

The poet Jane Kenyon understood this idea better than anyone. Kenyon wrote her poem “Otherwise” shortly before she died from leukemia at the young age of 47. During her illness, she continued to write thoughtful, beautiful poems, knowing that at any moment, things would be “otherwise” for her.

If Kenyon could express gratitude for the small pleasures of life while facing her own death, surely we can do the same?


by Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed

on two strong legs.

It might have been

otherwise. I ate

cereal, sweet

milk, ripe, flawless

peach. It might

have been otherwise.

I took the dog uphill

to the birch wood.

All morning I did

the work I love.

At noon I lay down

with my mate. It might

have been otherwise.

We ate dinner together

at a table with silver

candlesticks. It might

have been otherwise.

I slept in a bed

in a room with paintings

on the walls, and

planned another day

just like this day.

But one day, I know,

it will be otherwise.

Journal Exercise

Re-read Jane Kenyon’s poem. What is the first image that comes to mind? What feelings arise? Write these down in your journal. If you were to add your own line to “Otherwise,” what would it be? List five things you are grateful for today.

(Photo by José Manuel Ríos Valiente via Flickr Creative Commons)



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