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Count Your Blessings

Flowered teapotMy grandmothers and mother, as regular readers will already know, had a robust supply of phrases available for a wide range of situations, or when a particularly vivid description was required. “Man on horseback” and “long and hungry month of March” are two. This being Thanksgiving Day in Canada, there are two others echoing in the back of my mind –– “count your blessings” and “better gone than a leg or an arm”.

As it turns out, a quick Google search reveals that “count your blessings” is actually a hymn. The words and music aren’t at all familiar to me, but the phrase, which needs no explanation, certainly is. And indeed it’s been around for a very long time –– its usage was common enough in the 1880s that some consider it a proverb.

Whatever the origin, it was a staple of my childhood… I think perhaps of almost every Newfoundland childhood of the 1970s or earlier… when the sea was prone to taking at least as much as it gave and where most people worked extremely hard but still had little, relative to the standards we’ve grown accustomed to today. “Count your blessings” was our way of remembering to be grateful for whatever we had, no matter how little or how much. And most often it was used in relation to the important things, like a loving family, health, food to eat, a roof over your head, and enough money to pay the bills.

The much less common, “better gone than a leg or an arm,” was a favorite of my mother’s. I’m not sure I’ve actually ever heard it expressed by anyone except my own family or close friends, but it, too, is all about being grateful. It’s also about perspective.

I can honestly recall only one instance in my childhood when my mother got angry at me for accidentally breaking or damaging something –– it was a teapot, white with pretty red flowers, and it was used for only the most special of guests. She told me soon after that the teapot didn’t matter at all (better gone than a leg or an arm) and hugged me… more upset that she’d gotten angry than worried about a broken teapot.

Every other time, whatever the news –– something broken, something lost (though her prayers to St. Anthony usually remedied that), something damaged, something destroyed –– the first and continuing reaction was “better gone than a leg or an arm”. And this was the case even when the item was irreplaceable.

Better gone than a leg or an arm. On Thanksgiving Day I’m deeply grateful for much, including these short eight words that so powerfully express perspective and gratitude. And the woman who first shared them with me.