Thanksgiving. It's a wonderful word, isn't it? One of my favorites. And one I think of year round, not just in late November. But perhaps more often I think of it as "gratitude."
I recently found my gratitude journals -- or at least a couple of them. I started writing the daily "Five things for which you are grateful" in a journal decades ago and while I no longer write them down, every night before I go to sleep, I think of at least five things to acknowledge.
Some are big ones, like being grateful that when my across-the-street neighbor and I simultaneously backed our cars out of the driveway at the same time, no damage was done to person or car. Some are small, like getting a great parking spot on a crummy day.
And many repeat, over and over. Being grateful for a special time with Rick, a phone call from one of the kids, Lizzie's purr.
It's been fun reviewing the journals because they remind me of some very special times -- and some significant ones.
For example, in 2001 I made this notation: "I am grateful that amid terror and death, strangers speak and hug each other, people pull together to help others, strangers remember those they never knew with flowers and teddy bears and photographs; that my family and friends are safe and that we are more aware than ever of how life can be cut short. (September 12, 2001)
Funny. That is as fitting this month as it was those many years ago.
Not all my gratitude notes have such a world view. For example, on Thanksgiving weekend in 1998 I wrote: I am grateful for delightful times with Rick and the kids, for not so delightful times with the whiners, and for being able to love them despite the whining. (I wish I could remember what they were whining about!) That week, among other things I wrote that I was grateful for Jane Austen and "Pride and Prejudice," weather so warm I barely need a jacket and for being able to relax.
And a few days later: "I'm grateful the lump on my breast seems to have disappeared or "gone under" and I don't need surgery for the holidays.
There were times when I was grateful for a "deep sleep" and that my friend Patricia was hanging in there healthwise. (December 1997). Patricia has since passed but I remain grateful that she was my friend.
I look back and see things that meant a lot to me. "I'm grateful that Kevin told me I could come to the Pinewood Derby." (January 1997, about a year after I was part of their lives.)
And then there were the routine things -- the smell of baking cookies, an afternoon off, that the tulips are popping up and for stars, the microwave and frozen margarita mix.
Looking back at these journals of simple gratitude tell me, in a way, what was happening in my life then, almost like a diary without the details. The funky mammogram, 9/11, becoming part of a family, warm autumns and early springs.
But most of all, I see the simple beauty and meaning of real life. The things that appear over and over are Rick and the boys, the cats, health and comfort. Chocolate chip cookies, back rubs, stew on a cold winter night, a whole day to do art.
To be grateful that a stressful day is over seems more healthy and nurturing than to keep reliving that stressful day. To recognize with thanks that you and no one else was hurt in a fender bender (even if the car was totaled) is so much more freeing than being angry at the accident, the other driver or yourself.
In fact, in a news story reported on NPR on Monday, November 23, scientific research has indicated that gratitude is good for your heart health -- and additional studies proved writing it down helped even more! (Maybe I should start doing that again!) It's a short story and an interesting one -- check out the link!
The New York Times also reported on this research. Choose to be grateful -- it will make you happier, the article encourages, linking to the various research studies. Both are stories well worth following!
I have a reputation for being a pretty half-full kind of person. And I can't tell you how much this annoys people! It's not that I never get down. I do. But even then I try to remember how easily it could be so much worse. And I'd rather try to find the one little bit of good in a whole heap of bad to hang onto. It's not that one can ignore the bad. I can't. But I can try to find a tiny bit of gratitude somewhere in the mix.
The incidents in Paris this month have drawn me in with their sadness and I see the fear that is sweeping not only Europe but our own country. I see political arguments and statements that make no sense to me, that seems outrageously xenophobic. I see a future where the rules of the game have been changed and we scramble for a way to bring safety to the world. And can we? No one knows.
But I also see the crowds of people that Peter showed in his Paris posts, returning to the Bataclan and leaving flowers at makeshift Parisian memorials, dining in cafes and standing firm. I see the governor of Washington in his New York Times OpEd piece defend the need to place refugees. I see friends continuing to make their travel plans to Europe. And each and every one of these things fills me with gratitude.
The list on this day is a bit more complex than being grateful for finding my earring plug and being able to sleep in.
And perhaps that is what it's all about. Growing in gratitude, facing the difficult head on and looking for the shiny bit to hold onto, even when it seems very hard.
We all need that shiny bit.
So, if you are lucky enough to get the wishbone in your turkey dinner, pull hard and make a wish. But make it a wish that counts.
And be grateful that we are able to wish and dream and hope. And, grateful to find true happiness, no matter what that might mean for you.
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