Gratitude for What We Do Not Have

Shells in the Sands Series #1

Gemma Jiang, PhD


The intention for this series is to share cherished thoughts and reflections of life in bite-size pieces. I have been an avid journal writer since my early teens, and most of the original writings were initially captured in my personal journal. I have chosen the most pertinent ones to share with the world through this series. This joy is similar to picking out beautiful shells while walking on a sandy beach.

The other day our mail carrier Chris was delivering mail when my husband Roger and I happened to be standing at the top of our driveway.

“Y’all do not have any mail today.” He stuck his head out of the car and declared.

“Oh, that is disappointing.” I exclaimed. I always look forward to bringing the mail in to open.

“Well, at least you do not have any bills to pay today.” Chris replied enthusiastically.

“That is so wise.” I thought to myself as Roger and I walked back down the driveway. Chris must have the “big data” on the mailing patterns to know that more bills than presents often arrive in mails, especially when it is not Christmas time.

This is another beautiful application of “gratitude for what I do not have”, a discipline I have been practicing lately.

This year I have made major progress in reconciling with the tragic loss of my parents in my early years. Two stories I recently came upon helped to orient me to vastly unique perspectives.

I heard Clover Stroud’s story on Kate Bowler’s podcast Everything Happens. When Clover was sixteen, her mother was in a horse-riding accident that left her with a severe brain injury and permanent disability until she died 22 years later. The sudden tragedy of the accident was similar to my mother’s traffic accident, but the ongoing difficulty of the 22-year long caregiving was different. Clover described her experience as an “ongoing sense of grief, trauma and death being present in your life all the time”. After about ten years of hoping that she was going to get better with the right therapy, the family realized that she was not going to get better. Then Clover described the very poignant feeling of wanting her mother to die: “I remember really coming to the very…



Gemma Jiang, PhD

Senior Team Scientist, Colorado State University; Complexity Leadership Scholar and Practitioner; also at