Simple Gifts

“Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday,” my friend M. wrote last night during an exchange of texts to wish each other a happy day. “I love what it represents."

And although I’m not one who generally loves holidays, if pressed to choose a “favorite” I might well pick Thanksgiving myself. Because how can you help but love what it represents? An opportunity to be grateful, to take a day and enjoy the simple pleasures of life  - eating, drinking, relaxing, sharing with family or friends - and focus on the good things in life.

I admit, it has been difficult some days to see anything good about the past 11 months. 2016 has been (in the words Judith Viorst’s well known picture book) a “terrible, no-good, horrible, very bad year.” There have been many times when I would gladly have “moved to Australia,” as Alexander threatens to do in Viorst’s book. But sometimes there is no running away from troubles - you have to face them head on and power through. 

“It’s going to be a very sad Thanksgiving,” my husband said last weekend, contemplating this day without my mom. His grief for her seems to manifest itself in terms of food and meals shared, something I’m sure she’d be just fine with - one of her missions in life was cooking for him, so it’s only fitting that those are the memories most poignant to him. 

So this year, for the first time in my entire life, I’m cooking an entire, traditional Thanksgiving dinner for the two of us. My first thought was “How sad, only the two of us here for Thanksgiving.” But then it occurred to me: Why not think: “How fun, to make my first Thanksgiving dinner ever for the two of us! No pressure to get it perfect, just a chance to play in the kitchen and see how it turns out.” So even though some tears fell into the pumpkin pie filling yesterday, there is still a good measure of contentment in the day. 

This morning, wide awake well before dawn and curled up on the couch with fresh coffee and Katrina Kenison’s beautiful book Moments of Seeing, I could again feel my heart shifting toward that attitude of gratitude so appropriate for this day. My personal shifting mechanism has been very creaky this whole year - it’s been atypically difficult to look at events and conditions from a different angle, one laced with hope and joy rather than pain or fear. But as usual, reading Katrina’s books feel like talking things over with a wise friend. Comparing her life to those Hidden Picture drawings she loved as a child, the ones that require you to “squint your eyes” and focus directly on the object you’re looking for, she writes:

My life lately has felt as complex as those multilayered drawings of my childhood. On the surface things appear orderly enough. But what I’ve experienced internally is a series of invisible, painful losses - each a challenge to my equanimity, to my sense of the universe as a fair and benign place. Feeling fragile and overwhelmed, I’ve been experimenting with an emotional version of that old eye-squinting thing. I keep thinking I’ll suffer less if I can just look more deeply into the picture. Somewhere, I know, goodness is hiding in plain sight. My task is simply to find it. 

And so I repeat these words to myself like a mantra. ‘Look for the good.’ And then I narrow my focus until I begin to see what I’m hunting for: the delicate outline of a blessing, some well-camouflaged scrap of goodness amid the sadness, some small, random thing to be grateful for."

And so I hone in my focus and see much for which to be grateful.  Grateful to have had my mother with me, caring for me, cooking for me, for 60 years of my life. Grateful for my dear and devoted circle of friends, without whom I literally would not have survived the past 11 months. Grateful for the little grandson who gives me a reason to fight for the future and an incentive to stick around and see how it turns out. Grateful for the health and happiness of those nearest and dearest to me. Grateful for the ability to write my heart out and grateful for you who read those words. Grateful for a free nation where dissent is (still!) possible, where the ability to stand up for your beliefs is (still!) an inalienable right. 

Friends, may this Thanksgiving represent all that is good in your life. May it allow you to shift your perspective if you need to, so that you can give thanks freely and without reservation. May it fill you with warm memories, create new ones to call on in days ahead, and, most of all, may it give you peace and hope for the future.