Gratitude: at a time when my heart is often cracked yet again by the news, and when much of our country seems to be mad with hatred, it’s hard sometimes to remember how much there is to be grateful for.
Even though I keep a gratitude journal, noting down my many thanks has been less frequent than other times. And my ‘daily’ pages are … well, let’s say that weekly would be an improvement!
In other words? I’ve been grieving, not grateful-ing. But a long-time tradition I believe in is using each day of November to record something I’m grateful for. Making the month of Thanksgiving truly a month of gratitude. I’m a bit late off the mark this year, but here goes with a catch-up list:
Today, this very moment, what I’m grateful for is autumn — my favourite season. Just this week the trees in our town ignited. Seriously — there is incandescent scarlet, saffron, & chartreuse. A deep winey burgundy, and the sombre backdrop of greeny-black evergreens. It’s a lush tapestry of gorgeous.
Weaving in & out of this are birds, like red, blue, grey, black, even orange threads of bright movement. The four blue jay brothers are squawking at me to fill the sunflower feeder, and a nuthatch vies with a red-bellied woodpecker at the suet block. It’s a never-fail antidote to the tragedy of so many human interactions.
And after a night with my astonishingly wonderful elder grandson, I’m once again thanking the universe that my beloved & I took a leap of faith and moved half-way across the country to spend more time w/ our two grandsons. The elder a perpetual movement machine, running on peanut butter, jelly, apples, & tickle marathons. The younger one endless wide-eyed wonder, enthralled by even the fan above him (his own personal mobile!). You flat can’t have ‘quality’ time w/out plenty of quantity.
I’m still surprised at how many faces in this small town are becoming familiar to me. Just today, when I went to vote, I recognised 2 women exiting the polling station. Where I know them from eludes me, but they were faces I knew I SHOULD know! I’ve never lived in a small American town, so much of this new chapter is totally new to me.
The power of landscape to awe me is another gratitude. Maybe I just took the sprawling skies of Oklahoma for granted, no longer seeing them as beautiful, but the mountains here — the vistas that open up like a kaleidescope of 15 greens, 5 browns, and uncountable shards of orange, wine, russet & pumpking — send me into stunned, breathless silence. They’re that incredible.
How can I NOT be grateful?
If, like me, the evil we do to each other, the refusal to own our own responsibility to change things, and the powerlessness we feel as individuals is overwhelming you, I’m prescribing autumn. Get outside — even if it’s chilly. Maybe especially if it’s chilly! Blow the doldrums over the hazy horizon. Take a cup of tea (I’m drinking Harney’s new London Fog — how appropriate an autumn tea is THAT?!), and just watch the season unfurl in front of you. If you’re very lucky, maybe the birds will even talk to you. And for that, we’re always grateful.
Despite what we thought would be the case, we’ve had several visitors to our new home in Virginia. And that’s GOOD! In part because not only do we love them all, but they’ve all worked hard to be great house guests. Want to know how to ace that rôle? Listen up:
The biggest help is to be sure the folks you’re visiting adore you. That’s been the case with all of our guests: my three sisters — one with beloved partner; my younger son; my niece & her wife, plus friend; and a very dear old friend of mine. Each is a pleasure to visit with, and a necessary element in my very happy life. So that’s #1.
#2: Give your host and/or hostess some notice, so they can anticipate! Not to mention do the sheets in the guest room… 😉 In our case, it means we can also make reservations for Sunday brunch at the coooolest little restaurant in the Blue Ridge Mountains!
#3: Let them know if you have dietary issues. A couple of old friends are coming in a few weeks, and she was thoughtful enough to let me know they all have celiac. So I can show off our amazing local bakers, who do GREAT gluten-free! And I was able to send her the link to a great local restaurant that has a lengthy gluten-free menu, as well. We all win!
#4: If you’re staying for more than a few days-ish, pitch in. My younger son is the king of this — he takes out trash; he empties wastebaskets; he goes to pick up last-minute necessaries when I’m cooking. It’s also nice if you ask about stripping the bed when you leave, but not critical. Still, when my girlfriend did it, neatly folding the dirty linens on the ottoman, I was sooo grateful!
#5 is optional, & dependent on finances, obviously: Take your host/ess out for a meal. My sisters aren’t particularly flush — one is retired, another in FT grad school, and the 3rd unemployed. Yet each found a way to take us out, and it was such a thoughtful gesture!
Finally? HAVE FUN! If you’re at my house these days, chances are we’ve picked up some creeping bug from the grandsons, and are lower energy than we’d like to be for guests. Which means I’m über paranoid that you’re bored! If you’re obviously enjoying what we do most days — drinking tea or coffee, watching birds, reading, just talking — then I’m happy. And while it’s NOT all about me (honest), it’s sooo much more fun for ALL of us if I know what you enjoy, from the food (if you don’t like cornbread, be sure to let us know! We eat a lot of it!) to the bed (close the door if you don’t want the cats on you!) to the weather (we can’t fix that, so just enjoy it — our town is gorgeous!).
In other words, just be your normal kind & thoughtful self. Having fun! How hard is that??
Lately, I’m trying to refrain from doing FB in the a.m., especially NOT when I first get up! That lovely, vulnerable, sleepy happy that envelops us like soft warm down blankets? FB is its nemesis!
Instead, even as fall deepens into upcoming winter, I go to sit on our patio, 10 feet from the bird feeding stations. 12 from the mixed border beneath the bedroom windows. I watch the little finches jockey for seed, and a portly blue jay crane his neck to reach a feeding hole on the sunflower tube. The sun is like warm honey, and life is very very good.
i have that privilege. No one is going to come round up me, or my beloved, or my family. No one is going to believe evil of me based on how I look (well, I do get blonde & senior jokes!). Seriously? I have a pretty idyllic life.
Which is why I need my garden so desperately these days. I hope that makes sense: I need this place that reminds me we can still grow beauty from seeds (it helps to have a light table, though). That there are still bright, hungry birds willing to share their flightiness & colour w/reasonably quiet observers.
I need to be able to sit, as I am, with the sun on my arm, typing at a patio table as I drink good iced coffee w/cinnamon, turmeric, cayenne, & condensed milk. I need to be forcibly reminded that life will go on. And for me? It certainly will.
But in Puerto Rico, subject to arcane laws put in place to protect corporations, not people without food and water, it doesn’t. In so much of the world, to be a grandmother is hearbreaking, not joyous (if exhausting!). To be a grandmother (or father, or aunt, or other family member in charge of the littles) is to wonder how they will survive. Is to wonder what kind of lives they will be ALLOWED to live…
It’s beyond heart-breaking.
Coffee & garden sun won’t fix any of that. But it will help me get to the next moment, relatively sane & able to go about a day too often fractured by what is happening in our country.
I didn’t grow up with hate. As a verrrry lucky child, I grew up in the most diverse of environments: an overseas school. There were American military brats, expat brats from all countries (my 3rd grade best friend was from Sri Lanka, my 4th from Texas), and a generous double handful of local children. If you look at an old yearbook, you’ll see a UNICEF banner of children, gap-toothed & happy. So this whole white supremacist thing is something I flat can’t understand. What makes white people better than others??? In my world, we often aren’t even as good: we don’t speak any other languages, and we don’t know much about the world outside our hometowns. That’s GOOD???
As frustration begins to rise, I look over at the bird stations, where a crisply black, grey, & white nuthatch is feeding. He’s startled a red-bellied woodpecker off the seed cylinder. I take a deep breath, and reach for my (empty) coffee glass.
Life is soooo confusing. But it’s less so, I promise, if you can make it outside. Into the sun. Somewhere by flowers & birds. With coffee. It’s we who are the world, as the song reminds us. If we can get our own heads & hearts straight, we still have a chance to fix things.
Today I’m trying to juggle the despair I feel for the island of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands (which evacuated to Puerto Rico – did you know that?), with the happiness I felt all day yesterday as I sat w/ a dear friend & my family over a lovely brunch.
I have known since I was a very young child (8? 9?) that I’m privileged. Standing on one side of an iron gate to our villa, only blocks from the ambassador’s residence, I watched a young ViệtNamese woman – certainly not twice my age – tell me in the unmistakeable language of hands & eyes that her infant held close to her flat breasts was hungry. And she had no food. That was my first encounter w/ my own privilege.
These days, as friends & family from around the country drive or fly to visit us in our beautiful new home, w/wages they earn at secure jobs, I remember almost daily how rare this is for most of the world. Two of my three sisters have come to visit – one has come twice! The third is coming in two weeks. I live blocks from my healthy, well-fed grandsons & their parents. Tomorrow I will get in the car w/ my beloved daughter-in-law and go to a nearby pumpkin patch to gather pumpkins w/the four-year-old in our family. We have plenty of gas for such luxuries.
In Puerto Rico, there is no electricity. As a friend of a friend noted, this isn’t because the power is ‘out’: it’s because the lines are shredded. There won’t be power again until the infrastructure is rebuilt. Such an innocuous word, infrastructure: EVERY POWER LINE. EVERY water facility. Dams, and roads, and…
I can’t get my heart around what my head knows. In my everyday life, I’m looking forward to my sister’s visit. Basking in the time I spent w/ a dear friend who was here for the weekend. Figuring out what I’ll fix for dinner tonight. Anticipating an elective medical procedure fully covered by (admittedly crappy, but still extant) insurance.
But in this time of far too prevalent American refusal to care about our fellow Americans, I’m heartbroken for mothers, grandmothers, sisters. Women (& men) who have only the spectre of cholera to anticipate. The end of paychecks, because FEMA has commandeered all island fuel for hospitals. Meaning: noooo offices can open if they could otherwise. Hence, no $$. (You did realise that the currency of an American territory is dollars…??)
In this time of ‘fake news’ – so often perpetrated on us by our own government – I can’t forget that these other Americans, whose only ‘crime’ is being where a massive hurricane hit, are without food. Without water. Days away from a cholera epidemic. Living among the decaying remains of a thousand thousand drowned animals. A million million pieces of trash. Fecal matter floating in the water.
I hope that totally disgusted you. Because I know of no way, other than the words I’ve practiced using for decades, to wake America up. To outrage the status quo, so that we INSIST our government do something more. And please: don’t insult my intelligence w/ the ‘big ocean’ crap. EUROPE is significantly farther away, but they’re already rebuilding. Us? Who cares about brown folks who REALLY probably aren’t even Americans. Well,l French president Macron does. In the ravaged Caribbean, he was there less than a week after the hurricane hit. Our inglorious leader (I can barely manage to think his name…)? More than two weeks LATER: 3+ weeks AFTER THE HURRICANE STRUCK.
The population of Puerto Rico is about the same as my home state, Oklahoma. And let me assure you: the majority of that state where I’ve lived for decades, where I was born, could care less about sending their $$ to a place almost half of them don’t even realise is American. After all, that’s true at the national level. And I don’t think Oklahoma is any better.
I can also assure you that Oklahoma (& its legislators, please note) would NOT be ‘okay’ with the treatment Puerto Rico is receiving if the state was devasted by a category 5 tornado, a phenomenon much like Hurricane Irma. If the entire state of Oklahoma lacked any hope of electricity for the next several months, and cholera was in the water, and the children of the state were doing w/out asthma inhalers, food, medical treatment, et al…? The state would be in arms. Quite literally, I assure you. Like the guys in Florida who shot at the incoming hurricane…
I’m trying to moderate my visceral anger with my Buddhist tonglen. But truthfully? It’s almost impossible to breathe in my anger and breathe out peace. When (& if…) I succeed, it’s when I’m able to think of my anger as only a fraction — an infinitesimal nano-fraction of the 3.5 MILLION Americans — of the anger & fear felt by a thousand thousand parents, grandparents, siblings: … I breathe for them, hoping I can somehow take on their rage & grief.
What about you? How do you reconcile our privilege with the heart-shattering plight of Puerto Rico? I’d love to hear something I can actually do, besides just throw my privileged $$ at this horrific tragedy…
You know those multiple intelligences tests that go around every so often? Well, I used to ask my students to take them. They’re a good ice breaker, and as a long-time teacher, and one of the (very few!) folks who read alllll of Howard Gardner’s book on multiple intelligences, I agree with his conclusions: folks have various ways of learning that are easier for them than others. It’s not rocket science..😉
I always asked my students what they thought my ‘intelligences’ were. They began w/ verbal, since I teach reaching & writing. Nope, I would respond. Not even close. After a few blinks, they would say, interpersonal. And again, I’d reply Nope. I’d counter that actually I’m almost on the spectrum: I’m VERY low in interpersonal skills. I tend to misread folks, although usually to their benefit & not mine…😏 I like to think folks are basically well-intentioned. Politics lately have reminded me that this is not true.
Then they would begin to popcorn sugestions: science? Art? WHAT, Britt?? And almost never (well, to be honest, I don’t remember anyone EVERY suggesting) outdoors. Then music. Verry close together, folks. I adore being outside, and music is my first language. Not even poetry, which depends on both word & song, but music. Which for me, at least, is a kind of magic.
So today, while I was making myself heartsick reading how we are failing so many Americans in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, my younger son sent me a song. It was a cover of a song I always loved. And it totally changed my attitude! Seriously — I found myself dancing in the chair beneath the umbrella outside, my Ipad & keyboard totally forgotten as I listened.
I remembered why music IS one of the ways I process the world: it keeps me balanced. I put that song on like a 16-year-old — playing it over & over for 1/2 an hour, as my bleak dark mood lightened, finally dissipating entirely. I shared it w/ my beloved, as well. And he smiled, caught up in the melody & lyrics. Given, it’s a particularly happy tune, but really? Music is just magic.
I can’t think of anything else — not food, not drink, not books, not even the laughter of my grandsons — that has the same kind of impact on me. Music takes me outside of myself, to some place other. I couldn’t tell you where that it is, or how that works, to be honest. Nothing else, however (well, nothing but being outside…) has that kind of healing power for me.
Anyway, if these dark & grievous times are preying on you like they do me? Well, here it is, so you can enjoy it too. I hope it helps. I know we all need some light these days…
This is the year I lose what little faith I had left in the American Dream. Not ‘the’ American Dream — I’m not sure I’ve believed in that for a long time. All people can’t become president (unless they’re über rich…). Nor can just anyone come to America — especially these days — much less become whatever s/he wants to be.
No, this was the dream that drove America to international acclaim during the 20th century. The dream that birthed so many great poets, inventors, philosophers, scientists and musicians. The dream that flamed bright in Abraham Lincoln, Sojourner Truth, César Chávez. The dream of a quality public education that was the right of every American child.
I am trying to come to terms w/ the idea that while we say we care about education, what we do (remember the whole actions speak thing?) is cut funding, deride teachers, slash their pay and benefits. And blame them, in the meantime, for ills that are societal in nature. Witness our current Secretary of Education, and her disinterest in traditional public ed. Despite, for instance, the research that shows (fairly conclusively) that charter schools are NOT as strong, overall, as public schools, and that $$ DO make a difference in quality of education, she & her bosses continue to tout charter schools. Which make PROFITS off of kids. Grr…
John Steinbeck once said (in one of my very favourite books, The Log from the Sea of Cortez) that American society pays lip service to abstract ‘good’ values like ‘wisdom, tolerance, kindliness, generosity, humility.’ But in reality? The man who forced Americans to confront the realities of the Great Depression argues that we ‘envy and admire the person who through possessing the bad qualities [cruelty, greed, self-interest, graspingness, and rapacity] has succeeded economically and socially, and will hold in contempt that person whose good qualities have caused failure.’ We love Jesus in the abstract, he says, but we’d rather be successful than good. Because to be good is to be weak. A ‘value’ we see repeated over & over in the current electoral results.
This is painfully evident today. We see sharing — w/ the poor, w/ other countries, w/ the elderly and people who look different than we do — as a sign of weakness. Those people, I hear over & over. Those loafers. Those non-believers. Those who are not like me. I hear people say ~ I have to work hard. They just want it free. Hence the horrific “health” plan that will leave the elderly, those w/ health conditions, and many many other Americans w/ no hope of health care.
I don’t really know how to draw lines between human hearts. If we all believe in the magic that keeps the world turning, does it matter whether we call it God or Allah? Or science? If our children laugh when tickled, does it matter whether their first words are English, Czech or Spanish?
Don’t all parents awaken each morning hoping that their children will grow up happy? That our sons & daughters will find meaningful work, be able to live on the proceeds, and be safe from war and want? If so, why is it we can’t meet there? What is so damn important that we can’t sit down over tea and talk? How the HELL do we expect our children — ALL our children — to become what we dream of w/out benefit of education? I would think even the most diehard no-funding proponent would see that an educated populace is an economic advantage for all of us. Even w/out benefit of their taxes, the educated can work, and support themselves…
We cut education $$ because we would rather give tax breaks to 1% of American taxpayers than fund reading and writing programs that do hundreds of thousands of children good. In my previous state of residence — Oklahoma — we have cut education funding more than ANY other state. And we’re proud of it, most of us. But me? I’m grieving. Mourning for a country that I thought believed in our children. That cherishes them as our future.
I keep poking this wound. Even though I was expecting this outcome, knowing that I’ve agreed w/ Steinbeck on this since I first read him, I am heartsick. I know that there is enormous fear and hatred raging at floodtide throughout the country. And I don’t understand it.
As I drove to get coffee yesterday, I passed houses redolent with the fragrance of old money. Their bricks were all neatly pointed. Nary a shingle curled. Each fence contained its private sanctuary with evenly spaced and level boards. The neighbourhood was so beautiful in the balmy not-quite-summer sunlight that it made you smile in delight. People live here, I thought. In these houses as big as libraries. Within these walls of stone and brick and privilege. But it didn’t make me jealous. It made me deeply aware of how blessed we are. How blessed the owners of those lovely old homes are. How much we have to be thankful for, and how often we feel that offering opportunities — real, tangible, concrete opportunities — to those less fortunate is ‘redistribution of wealth.’
In Wisconsin recently, there are people who said they have no jobs, so why should others? What happened to empathy? If my life is hard, I don’t want everyone to be at my level. Misery really doesn’t love company. Even when I was poor — so poor that I did w/out a telephone, had no TV, lived in a 3-room shotgun apartment cut from 1/4 of an old derelict house in a very bad neighbourhood — I wanted peace and plenty for all. I didn’t begrudge pocket mansions or expensive imported cars. I just wanted every one of my friends to have the opportunity for the same.
And this week, it feels like that hope is a completely dead American dream. And I can’t understand why.