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.
I never take friendship for granted. As a child, a teen, and then an adult, I moved too often to keep most friends I made along the way. There is one man from my senior year I still correspond with, via FB. I’m sure he has no idea how dear he is to me, not only for this important singularity, but also because for some unknown reason he values my friendship, too.
Over the years, I have lost far more friends than I have kept, most from the attrition of too many moves and too little time together. My oldest dear friend and I have worked hard to maintain the precious friendship that blossomed unexpectedly as we worked together years ago: over the more than 10 years we’ve lived across the country from each other, we’ve scheduled visits, telephone calls, FaceBook messages & Google Hangouts. Sent cards & presents. Tried hard to safeguard the fragile cup that holds this infinitely precious elixir.
That’s what it is, friendship. A kind of magic draught that confers an inner sense of worth & comfort. Even if it sneaks up on you sometimes, blindsides you with how much you didn’t realise you needed it right that minute. In, for instance, a made-with-love&care box of biscotti, colouring book postcards carefully tucked in. Just because she can, a newer friend says in a short note (no effusiveness for this girl!).
Perhaps because I don’t take my friends for granted, I’m always surprised I have any! Please rest assured: I’m not playing the poor pitiful me card. I just know that I prose on far too much about esoteric subjects ~ tea, for instance. Who other than my younger son really wants to discuss the difference between a jasmine tea made with black tea leaves and a jasmine made with a far gentler combo of green & white teas? Who wants to hear me wax rhapsodic about an obscure poet, or try to process my dog’s brain tumour? Who cares that my grandson told me his newest great thing?
My friends. The infinitely treasured men and women who have managed to wriggle past my fairly strong external personality — the voice that can part a sea of supermarket shoppers, the highly opinionated newshound, the besotted grandmother, the horrible punster. To whatever it is they see beneath that fairly thick veneer.
There’s the man I met in a book club he started at my former employer’s: he let me in to his deep grief when his beloved partner died. The dear girlfriend I mentioned earlier, who solaced me during a very bad patch of life, but can also make me laugh until I snort tea through my nose. The woman I met in a writing workshop, the friend of another dear friend, who became my own friend, making me laugh when I needed to, bringing me homemade comfort treats because she could. The man who worked with me, who shared his dreams of home & happiness with me. The younger girlfriend who doesn’t take a busy ‘no’ for an answer, and cajoled me into tea at her house, with her adorable 2-year-old.
And of course there are my sisters. But somehow, you expect your sisters to love you. At least in my family we do, a family of 3 generations of sister/friends.
So here’s to friends, who don’t just tolerate our idiosyncracies, but celebrate them! Who talk too loud with us, bake for us, share their kids with us, show us their cat & dog pics, recommend books, send us music… In other words? Here’s to the friends who share their lives with us. I don’t deserve mine, but I’m profoundly grateful they don’t seem to know that.
My younger son & I were discussing Lent today. He said he wasn’t much in to suffering as an element of religious faith. And I agreed.
In my younger life, I didn’t observe Lent. At least, not with more than a superficial, glib ‘oh, I’m giving up soda…hee hee!’ Nothing critical, nothing really much of a ‘doing without.’
And then I went to live for years in Saudi Arabia, where Ramadan – that season of fasting & reflection – held sway throughout every element of the culture. For weeks on end. I was fascinated, & asked friends about the custom, which I was familiar with from a year lived in Algeria, but didn’t know well.
Was it – like my understanding of Lent – about suffering? About the origin of Shrove Tuesday? Penance for our sins, hence the suffering? And no, it wasn’t. Ramadan is about a different kind of doing without: a kind of suffering in solidarity. It’s about a very small taste of what it’s like to be poor, to be w/out food & even water. To go w/out luxuries like perfume, cosmetics. To remember that for much of the world, life is a matter of bare survival.
That made such sense to me! And so I began to observe Lent, trying to give up something meaningful. I haven’t been able to do an entire Ramadan yet; it’s so very hard. But I can let go of something I enjoy a great deal, something that is part of my daily life. So that a small tear appears in the fabric of my days. Something that serves as a daily reminder of the very different lives lived around our wrold.
This year, like one previous, I’m giving up FaceBook. But this year it’s a harder, following a move that has left me far more isolated from friends & family than before. Two of my three beloved sisters are on FB, posting pictures of their daily lives. Most of my communication w/ my friends – spread all over the globe – is through FB these days. I will miss that these next 40 days. Miss knowing how they are from day to day. Miss just hearing their ‘voices.’
And that’s as it should be. It wouldn’t be an authentic giving up if it didn’t leave at least a bit of a hole. That’s the point, isn’t it? Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday: are you giving up anything for Lent? Want to share what it is?
This is what my plant shelves on the deck looked like earlier this summer. I’m not posting what the shelves look like now, because they’re mostly empty. It’s the time of year when plants come inside. And, since we’re moving across country this winter, I also gave several away to my sister. The orchids found good homes but I’ll miss them…, as did several succulents. Including a jade tree at least 15 years old. Sigh…
But it meant today, a day that began with a sad email from a dear friend, who said she just couldn’t be on my FB anymore because of folks asking her to move on past the election. Like me, she’s still mourning. And she isn’t ready to hear ‘play nice,’ or ‘suck it up & get back to fighting for social justice.’ We’re still angry here (which I think is stage 3…?)
Anyway, it wasn’t a great morning. Until my sister who’s in town from Dallas called, & asked us to join her, and my youngest sister (as well as her son) to get together for… Thai food! And from there the day brightened considerably. Because she came back by the house, I was able to load her up w/ great (at least I think they’re great) plants: the orchids & jade plants, a lantana in orange/pink&yellow, great succulent fixings for a couple of the mixed succulent saucers we love, and others. All going to good homes! The orchids — which are a bit particular — went in their pots. The others I nudged from theirs, & sent over naked (well, in grocery bags!). I’ll need those clay pots at the new house!
It was the best of therapy. After my sister left, I brought in what won’t weather the upcoming cooler nights (mostly the remaining succulents), and worked on the inside plants. Then I tidied up the debris on the deck.
Something there is in me that responds happily to dirt. To get my hands into dirt. To rinse out pots, & scrub them clean for next season. To sweep off the deck in preparation for tomorrow’s morning sun (usually taken on the deck, w/ a big cappuccino!).
And I’m so very grateful for all of it. I am my old ladies’ kiddo: from Grandmother’s African violets to Grandma’s roses to Aunt Bonnie’s broom, rake, & shovel, I’m sprouted from those green hands. Like my mother & mother-in-law before me, the garden is my place to absolutely forget what’s bothering me. The birds come visit happily, & we all bask in the late afternoon sun. It’s a huge gift, and today it dominates my gratitude list.
Today is a brilliant fall day. Following a drizzly, gloomy day. Which is much better than the reverse, right? Everything has a lucent sheen to it ~ light almost halates: there are tiny haloes around pinpoints of sunlight. I’m grateful for that.
And when I went to look for a pic to add to the blog (Creative Commons ROCKS!), I found Nick Saltmarsh’s lovely mural. What a great piece of art! Whimsical, and very Portland (put a bird on it). I’m grateful for this, as well.
In fact, today’s big gratitude is for both found & made beauty. Many of my friends are artists: painters, metal workers, cartoonists, bookbinders, weavers. And more: gardeners, cooks, cabinet makers. People who leave, in their wake, beauty they created w/ their own hands. It’s an amazing talent! And when I’m depressed, it’s a never-fail way to remind me that there is much good in human beings, despite current issues.
Found beauty is another element entirely, and may deserve its own post. But today, I’m grateful for beauty in general, and I’m not really distinguishing between the beauty of sunlight on a refractive surface, and the art of handmade glass. Both fill me w/ content. And I’m very grateful for that.
The Buddha tells us to live in the now of things: that there is only this breath, this moment. And I wonder if part of the ‘now’ is the beauty of each moment ~ the feel of the breeze rounding the deck corner, the bright autumn sky. How the last few leaves sift from the almost naked branches to the vivid carpet below. If I stop, and look around, and breathe, my heart stills, and I forget — for entire minutes! — my grief at a world so very full of hurt.
If I just let go of my hurt, long enough to sit in this perfect now (and yep: I do realise it’s pretty hokey sounding!), I stop hurting. Sure it returns, but never in quite the same searing sharpness.
So go sit where your gaze fall on something lovely, and just sit there, looking. Breathe in, breathe out. It’s enough, I promise. Do it a few times. And I really don’t see how you can avoid feeling grateful. ❤️
There are days when a LOT of (little) things go wrong, on top of whatever BIG thing is pressing you like you were a 1/2″ thick panini. That would be today. The coffee grinder (for the beans that rescue my dull morning following my sleepless night) is making a … well, the WRONG kind of grinding noise. And taking it completely apart, cleaning it multiple times, & reassembling it has NOT set it to rights. I improvised a tea blend — not successful (fyi: lapsing soughing & spice tea do NOT make a smoky chai; they make a mess).
Plus I’m all achey from my flu shot. And yes: I know you don’t get flu from flu shots. I also know that they give me a low-grade fever, and my arm hurts. Hence last night’s sleepless night. And then?? A small wren (one of my favourite birds…) got in to the house, & before I could save her, the dog pounced on her & broke her tiny bowed back…
This is a verrry roundabout way of sharing what I do on days like today to remind myself there are still things to be grateful for. (Believe me, today was not a day when they were overly evident!) But here is what I found:
I can clean off a shelf I’ve been meaning to do, & it brings order to my scattered thoughts. I’m grateful that I remember to work w/ my hands when I’m down.
And I can always sit in the sun — that helps enormously. It’s hard to be depressed & gloomy when the sky is brilliant blue, & the sun a warm honey. I even had a tiny bee visit me!
There’s also the joy of ordering in! Thai soup — my comfort food — is a sure-fire gratitude builder. And having my beloved suggest it? To spoil me a little? Gratitude squared.
In other words, when life conspires against you — in both the large & small places — it’s the little things that will help you remember content. It’s a perfect scarlet leaf, a bite of Thai soup. It’s the barely audible hum of a tiny bee, nuzzling your hand. It’s the underlying fabric of everyday life, made lovely in this autumn of our discontent.
And it’s well worth my humble gratitude.