The Learning Curve of Gratitude After suffering a life-threatening illness, singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter had time to reassess her priorities. She came to believe in more fully appreciating the blessings each day brings.

The Learning Curve of Gratitude

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From Washington, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #1: I believe in mystery.

Unidentified Woman: I believe in family.

Unidentified Man #2: I believe in being who I am.

Unidentified Man #3: I believe in the power of failures.

Unidentified Man #4: And I believe normal life is extraordinary.

Unidentified Man #5: This I believe.

HANSEN: Today, on our regular feature, This I Believe, we hear from singer songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter who lives in Charlottesville Virginia. Carpenter has won five Grammy awards and sold 13 million records. Yet, she says, she has learned from difficulty, not from success. Here's our series curator, independent producer Jay Alison.

JAY ALISON: Recently, Mary Chapin Carpenter found herself in a bad way. She wanted to be able to answer her friends and family when they asked, how are you feeling? After a visit to the grocery store one day, she began to write, to communicate the things she had a hard time expressing on the phone or in person. That was the origin of her essay for This I Believe.

Ms. MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER (Singer Songwriter): I believe in what I learned at the grocery store. Eight weeks ago, I was released from the hospital after suffering a pulmonary embolism. I had just finished a tour and a week after returning home, severe chest pain and terrible breathlessness landed me in the ER. A scan revealed blood clots in my lungs.

Everyone told me how lucky I was. A pulmonary embolism can take your life in an instant. I was familiar enough with the medical term, but not familiar with the pain, the fear and the depression that followed.

Everything I had been looking forward to came to a screeching halt. I had to cancel my upcoming tour. I had to let my musicians and crewmembers go, the record company, the booking agency - I felt that I had let everyone down. But there was nothing to do but get out of the hospital, go home and get well.

I tried hard to see my unexpected time off as a gift, but I would open a novel and couldn't concentrate. I would turn on the radio, then shut it off. Familiar clouds gathered above my head, and I couldn't make them go away with a pill or a movie or a walk. This unexpected time was becoming a curse, filling me with anxiety, fear and self-loathing - all of the ingredients of the darkness that is depression.

Sometimes, it's the smile of a stranger that helps. Sometimes it's a phone call from a long absent friend, checking on you. I found my lifeline at the grocery store.

One morning, the young man who rang up my groceries and asked me if I wanted paper or plastic also told me to enjoy the rest of my day. I looked at him and I knew he meant it. It stopped me in my tracks. I went out and I sat in my car and cried. What I want more than ever is to appreciate that I have this day, and tomorrow and hopefully days beyond that. I am experiencing the learning curve of gratitude.

I don't want to say have a nice day like a robot. I don't want to get mad at the elderly driver in front of me. I don't want to go crazy when my Internet access is messed up. I don't want to be jealous of someone else's success. You could say that this litany of sins indicates that I don't want to be human. The learning curve of gratitude, however, is showing me exactly how human I am.

I don't know if my doctors will ever be able to give me the precise reason why I had a life-threatening illness. I do know that the young man in the grocery store reminded me that every day is all there is, and that is my belief. Tonight I will cook dinner, tell my husband how much I love him, curl up with the dogs, watch the sun go down over the mountains and climb into bed. I will think about how uncomplicated it all is. I will wonder at how it took me my entire life to appreciate just one day.

ALISON: Mary Chapin Carpenter with her essay for This I Believe.

(Soundbite of music)

ALISON: We asked her which of her songs might resonate with these words and she suggested, "Late For Your Life."

(Soundbite of song "Late For Your Life")

Ms. CARPENTER: (Singing) You've been saying for the longest time that the time has come. You've been talking like you're of a mind to get some changing done.

ALISON: As ever, our invitation to write for this series extends to everyone. Please visit our Web site, to find out more about how to submit and to read what others have written. For This I Believe, I'm Jay Alison.

(Soundbite of song "Late For Life")

Ms. CARPENTER: (Singing) Watch the sun go down. No one knows where they belong. The search just goes on and on and on. For every choice that ends up wrong, another one's right. A change of scene would sure be great. The thought is nice to contemplate. But the question begs why would you wait and be late for your life.

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