Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and the end of 2017 is just a few naps away.
I can’t believe 2018 is almost here.
This year has been a tough one, a scary one, but also a very, very good one. I have *so much* for which to be grateful.
There has been loss this year, as with any other. My Mardi Gras, my turtle-sundae ball of fluff who slept just above my head at night for so many years now romps in cat-heaven with her sort-of-sibling Jitterbug. Babs, my 15 year car that stayed with me through depression, the red mountains of Sedona and the Valley of the Sun, and carried me to jubilation as I took my first solo road trip, shouting with joy as “I Alone” played and I crossed a state line, and then another. Children have grown up, losing their baby teeth as we watch as their childhood is quickly passing. People have passed away, moved on, or taken new jobs, all of which leave a void in their absence.
There’s always loss in change.
And yet, there has been so much good. A reconnection of old friends, an old relationship begun on all-new terms. Progress made. Steps taken. A car.
I have so very much to be thankful for.
I’ve created a morning routine to take advantage of the time before work that is entirely mine. It’s the window that begins with morning stiffness but comes before the ensuing bone-deep fatigue: the time when the world is dark (and not full of terrors, by the way) and quiet and just a little bit sacred.
I still swear I’m not a morning person. I’ve just started waking up earlier before work because I know that this time might be the only time I get to read, to write, to exercise, and to accomplish things around the house.
But I digress.
Part of this morning routine comes from my reading of Og Mandino’s The Greatest Miracle in the World. In it, the narrator receives a Memorandum from God which contains five rules to a happy and successful life.
The first of these is to count my blessings. And so every morning, I’ve scribbled a thing or two for which I am grateful. Doing it as a practice—and not just one day a year—changed my perspective. It is so easy to get caught up on the lack. Easy to see what I don’t have enough of, what I need more of. Especially when clear-headedness and energy are at a premium.
By shifting focus, I move the memory of blessings to the forefront of my mind—front-row tickets to the Tool concert in my brain–and move the attention to lack to the nose-bleed section.
I do it while sipping my first cup of coffee: finding at least one thing for which I can give thanks. Depending on how heavy my eyes are that morning, I may not be able to see beyond the cup.
But then again, sometimes it’s a really good cup of coffee.
Many mornings, I find myself thankful for the ability to walk. Some mornings, when the coffee tastes burned and my pain levels are pushing 8 on the pain scale, and I overslept, I remember that I can walk. It’s something I took for granted for so long and even now, take it for granted once in a while. But I remember, starkly, a time when I couldn’t.
Sometimes it’s witnessing an absolutely ridiculous sight at the perfect time. Like watching a dog jump on a trampoline when I was so angry I could spit, only to burst out laughing at the idiocy of whatever I was angry at.
Or seeing the full moon come up over the water or seeing stars on a perfectly clear night as a reminder that whatever it is that is stressing me is minuscule when compared to the vastness of the sky.
Or it’s a five dollar bill I found when doing laundry.
I’ve been accused of being “upbeat” and possessing “Polly-Anna bullshit.” Considering how cynical I am with some things and sarcastic I am with most things, those labels are pretty hard-earned. I think finding things to be grateful is what puts bad things in perspective: as long as there is a silver lining, things aren’t all bad, even if they feel like them.
For me, thankfulness is the first step in pulling myself out of the mire that accompanies pain and the drowning feeling of being overwhelmed.
I’ve written that depression is like tunnel vision: it shrinks your vision of the world to a tunnel which ignores all the good outside of it.
Finding one thing, just one thing, to be thankful for is a way of expanding that tunnel just a little bit.
And sometimes, a little bit is all you need to keep hanging on.
Counting our blessings is a good way to bring what I have back into focus. Sometimes on bad days, I have to stretch a little further.
If you choose to make the act of thanksgiving a practice, and are having a hard time starting, I’d highly recommend reading the Memorandum from God. You can find it online free here.
As Shane Koyczan, another favorite of mine, says, “Every nightmare has a beginning, but every bad day has an end.” (Instructions for a bad day).
Sometimes it’s just being grateful that the day is over.
It’s important to be grateful, to be thankful, to remember.
But if we are thankful, if we are mindful of our blessings, what does thankfulness look like?
Thankfulness. Gratitude. Something intangible, right? Invisible? Some vague concept that exists “out there,” somewhere, something we can’t hold onto?
But is that really true?
As intangible as it may be, thankfulness is like love: we know when it’s present, and we are aware when it’s absent.
Love isn’t just a noun; it’s “more than a feeling” as the old song goes. We tend to recognize it by its side-effects. Whether it’s a relationship that has lasted fifty years and the googly-eyes are still present, or the gentle care of a woman taking care of her elderly mother, a child with a wildflower for a friend or volunteering at a soup kitchen, we know it when we see it.
It’s easy, I think, to say a Thanksgiving grace over too much food once a year. It’s more difficult to be consistently thankful, and even more difficult still to be thankfulness in action.
For this year, may you be granted more blessings than you can count, a reason to continue counting them, and and the means to put thankfulness into action.
Happy thanksgiving, wherever you are.