Thanksgiving has passed. November has come and gone. The leftovers of Thanksgiving have been eaten or are stuffed in baggies and plastic containers for lunches in the coming week. Some people have already moved on to Christmas and others are just counting down the days until 2013 ends. I am reveling in the last day of a long weekend, curled up in sweats, drinking coffee, pondering work and the week ahead, and wondering about being grateful.
A couple of years ago, I noticed some friends make mention of things they were thankful for in their status updates on Facebook, every day during the month of November. I admired the idea and I’ve noticed more friends doing so this year. Day-to-day updates on Facebook are not my thing, but I wanted to participate this year. A close friend shared the website of 30 Days of Thanks and I took inspiration. Why not take a holiday and make it a sentiment that carries us through a month? Why not take an abstract holiday and turn it into a chronicle of the heart? I kept a running mental list, knowing that I would share it at the end of the month. It’s not my first time taking note of the things that fill me with thankfulness; in fact it often seems easy to find the little things that lead me to a state of gratitude. When you start with gratitude, it can spread like a healthy disease.
Here’s a snapshot of what filled with me gratitude in November 2013. Obviously, the list could change from day to day, month to month. Another month, another year and the list might be completely different. When one is limited to 30 things, there are going to be things that don’t make the list. I like the thought of this project continuing, in my journal, on slips of paper, on napkins, on sticky notes, and in my mind and heart. Gratitude is portable and permanent, smoothing in the cracks of discontentment and grouchiness. It helps to come back to these things, these feelings, these talismans.
1. Family – This might be an obvious one for most people, but I don’t always let my family know how grateful I am. These are the people who shape me, ground me, and love me. These are the people who are honest with me. These are the people that put up with me and help me to clean up my messes (both real and metaphorical). I love them and I’m learning to be grateful for that love and concern.
2. Friends – I don’t have many close friends who live near, besides my sister. Most of my closest friends are from college and a few from high school. I struggle to keep these friendships real and to keep them from unraveling. I realize that friendships, like cars, need maintenance and regular check-ups. They need communication and time. I am trying to find ways to keep up these friendships and realize that they change over time and distance. We make time for what’s important and I want to make my friends a priority. Maybe the gratitude will help guide me to that place.
3. Writing – In my secret dream life (yes, a whole alternative dream world that exists), I have always considered myself a writer, even when the evidence in my real life was to the contrary. Over the years, I’ve kept journals in fits and starts, but it wasn’t until I started this blog over three years ago, that I began to take writing seriously, as a hobby, as a goal. Now, I am writing much more and I’m enjoying the heck out of it. The blog is fun, and I like the challenge and the ability to keep it on my terms. In the last year, I’ve gotten braver. I’ve written things and completed them, with much editing in between the start and finish. I have also submitted things for publication. Just a few days ago, I learned that one article I submitted a year ago will be published next year. This year I have had an essay published in a local anthology and an article published in an online journal. I’m grateful for the try and the bravery (and audacity) to send it out into the world. It’s a dream and I’m grateful that it’s becoming a verb in my life.
4. Quilts and afghans made by my grandmother – These blankets are part of my past, the fruits of Nan’s labors. They’re always folded at the foot of the bed, but in November as the weather turns colder they are like loving armor on a freezing night. This is functional art made by the hands of a woman who loved me and whom I miss. It makes me realize what a beautiful gift these blankets are and how lucky I am to have them to keep me warm and cloaked in love.
5. Fall, Winter and the change of seasons – I always think of Thanksgiving as the beginning of winter, even as we celebrate the harvest and the bounty of a growing season. To me, this is when we go inside and turn inward. I love the change of seasons and the rituals that come with those stops and starts, the gradual ending of the year.
6. Work – Of course, I’m grateful for a job so that I can pay rent, buy food, and meet my basic (and more) needs. I’m thankful, though, that I have a job that allows me to use my talents. I get to teach and greet students with passion and share that devotion for the environment. To get to do what I love is amazing and rare. Since this month has been particularly rough at work, for a multitude of reasons that I won’t go into here, it helps to be reminded of that.
7. Books – The past couple of weekends, I have curled up with a pile of novels and have ignored the outer world for hours at a time. I am grateful to have books, ideas, and stories that let me escape, love, and learn. I am grateful that I grew up in a home of readers. I have never been bored for a minute of my life, because I have had books to read, and for that I am grateful. I am grateful that amusement doesn’t have to come from a screen or something that has to be charged and reset.
8. Breakfast – Breakfast has always been my favorite meal. Of course, I’m grateful that I don’t have to worry about where my next meal will be from, but more than that, I’m grateful that I can treasure and enjoy the food. It’s not just for health and sustenance, but a way to be with the people I love and to share in community. For me, an occasional breakfast out is a way to greet the day, chat with my sister, enjoy being human, support a small local business, and savor good food.
9. Music – Whether it’s a humming to a catchy song on the radio, listening to a Beethoven symphony, singing all the words to a song playing from one of my favorite CDs, going to hear a band play live, or mumbling through an off-key tune in the shower, I’m grateful for music. It lifts my spirits and my energy, and it humbles me to think of the talents that people possess and are willing to share in this big world. Music is truly a miracle and a gift!
10. Sunrises and Sunsets – In college, it seemed easy to make time to see the sunset every day. I remember thinking it was bizarre that this wasn’t a daily ritual for most people. Now, as I buzz from home to school to class, I’m usually stealing glances at the sunset or sunrise from a car window. Whether it’s a fast few seconds or a deliberate hour, I’m thankful for these beautiful moments. It helps to be reminded that while beauty comes every day, it’s not too much to slow down and appreciate it.
11. Thanksgiving – I’m thankful for this holiday, but I know that there is controversy in it. If you go back and look at the treatment of Native Americans in this country, it has been a long and hellacious history. Not to gloss over that, but I love that we have a holiday dedicated to gratitude, where the idea of gathering with loved ones while sharing food is ideal. It’s my favorite holiday for all that it means and what we strive to make it. I am grateful for the quiet day with family sharing good food.
12. Slow downs on Saturdays and Sundays – I’m grateful for the weekend and two days off to slow down, recover, gain strength, and indulge in energies and efforts that feed my soul, even when they aren’t the things that pay the rent or the bills. I’m grateful for recognizing the other part of me, and making time for that other, as well.
13. Constant efforts at trying to improve the world – I am so grateful for the seemingly endless number of people who get up and try to make the world better. People do it in all sorts of ways. Gathering food for a food drive, starting a charity, participating in local politics, tossing change in for a good cause, trying to shape policy, fighting for democracy and education and the environment, sharing time and talents. There are so many ways that people share and strive and so many things that people do to astound me. They are the unsung heroes, for their grace, for their efforts, for their inspiration. We all have different visions that we see for the world, but I am grateful for all those out there trying, in big and small ways. Thank you.
14. Health – I had illness and wellness in this month and I’m so grateful for good health. I realize there are so many without it. I tend to take for granted my general good health. Having fever and sickness helped to remind me to be humbled and grateful. It also reminded me that I need to take charge of my health and be a better caretaker of my body. I need to show my gratitude for health by making healthy choices and living a healthful life.
15. A change in schedule – I get used to my routines: setting the alarm for a certain time, scooting out the door for work at a certain time, falling into bed at a certain time. I’m grateful for a change in the schedule, even if it’s just an hour and even if it’s because of the end of Daylight Savings. I also like when I can stay up really, really late or get up really, really early and enjoy a different perspective, a slight change in time. I love when I might go in to work late because I’ll work late, or have an early afternoon off at the end of the week. I love when a slight shift gets me out of a rut. That little shove, that little budge makes me grateful for both the constancy and the change.
16. The public library – I don’t think I can say enough about this one. The library is the place I love the most, probably even more than home. I have found ideas here, found new authors here, written stories here. I have hidden in the study carrels when I wanted to hide from the world. I have found inspiration here when I was broke and desperate. I have found the tools I needed here when I didn’t know where to turn. I have overheard conversations, helped someone find a book, and watched as young and old fall in love with the written word. When I don’t know where to go or what to do, I go to the library. I’m grateful for this space to read and dream and share in community with other people. I love that it is the home for classic works and popular ones, old and new. I love that it’s a place for us all. I’m grateful for the libraries, every single one.
17. Voting and elections – After last year’s never-ending Presidential campaign, this year’s election seemed almost inconsequential, but it wasn’t. Locally, we voted for mayor and city council members on mail-in ballots. No matter the year, I am grateful to vote and for all those who participate, even those with whom I disagree. I only have to listen to international headlines to realize what a joy and a wonderful right that is. I’m not saying all is rosy in our republic. We have a lot of work to do, but I’m thankful for the passion that continues to shape our country.
18. Veterans – In a month that includes Election Day and Thanksgiving Day, it seems particularly important to remember veterans, not just in a day, but all year round. I’m grateful that I’ve never had to bear arms, but I know that generations before me did. It’s often trite and corny, but these people are the ones who sacrificed. I can’t imagine the horrors they faced, but for all that is unseen, I am grateful. I do want to figure out a way to make this abstract sentiment a more thoughtful and personal effort. I’ll take my gratitude and figure out a way to make it a real commitment.
19. Doubt and faith – I have an up-and-down spiritual life. Sometimes I yell in frustration in my prayers, sometimes I listen with serenity in my prayers. Sometimes I have no prayers. I envy those with a smooth-sailing faith, but that is not to be my course. I’m grateful for the ebb and flow and the experience of both. Without the doubt, I don’t seem to gain the faith. Without that doubt, I can’t be sure of the faith. Without the faith, it’s hard to remember that doubt is only a visitor.
20. Pre-schoolers and 2nd graders – This month, I was very grateful for the three and four year-olds who were excited just because I walked into their room to visit and teach. I love the trust that they have and how sitting in a circle and singing for five minutes is a big deal. I also had a week of field trips with second graders and fell in love every day that week. They were young enough to be excited, but old enough to take care of themselves in the basic ways. We laughed and learned and I was grateful for all the students who welcomed me into their classrooms, ready to learn and share.
21. Peanuts the comic strip – I absolutely love Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Woodstock, Pig Pen, and the gang. I cried when Charles Schulz died, but I’m grateful that his comic strip lives on. I try to find it daily, for a dose of humor, and when I do, I’m thankful. My sister gave me the DVDs of a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and the other holiday specials. I watched the Thanksgiving special and I remembered how funny and sweet they are. Laughter is important and I’m grateful for it.
22. The ritual of coffee and tea and hot chocolate– It’s embarrassing how much I love tea and coffee and hot chocolate, or, rather, how much I love the ritual of preparing a cup of the hot beverages. I love fiddling with tea balls, tea bags, tea kettles, coffee makers, scoops of coffee with chicory, the rolling boil of water, the whiff of hot chocolate, the fragrant perfume of a hot morning beverage or a late night treat. I love the time that it takes and I love shivering with a hot mug, the steam rising as the day begins. I’m grateful for the time, the ritual, the drink.
23. Rebuilding and recovery – I am grateful to the people in our community who are strong and trying to dig out and make life anew. I am grateful for the people who volunteer to help those in need. I am grateful for those who are rebuilding and those who are questioning where and how to rebuild. I am grateful for those who are helping to heal and helping to soften the blow.
24. Serenity and sobriety – Thank goodness I’ve never had a struggle with alcohol or substance abuse, but I know and love those who have. I’m grateful for those who are working hard, one day at a time, to heal and to find serenity and sobriety. I may not need the sobriety, but I am working on the serenity and I am grateful that my struggle is not so difficult.
25. Home – I am so grateful for a place to live. Of course, for the shelter and warmth it provides, but also for the bubble of safety and peace it provides. I look forward to coming home to a safe space, a welcoming place, a place where I find peace. A place to dream, sleep, read, study, write, pray, knit, love, live, dance. I’m grateful to have that and so much more.
26. Earth worms – I am grateful that earth worms eat my leftovers, my tea bags, my coffee grounds, and help to make compost. I am grateful that I have a box of them in my home and that I can rely on them to eat what’s unused. I love the routine of feeding them and seeing them create part of the soil. I love that I have a simple way to take care of part of my waste, a way that doesn’t require infrastructure or much work. I love that the simple cycles of life are all right here and those lovely little worms connect me to that cycle on a daily basis.
27. The crunch of frost and the thrill of snow – We had a couple of cold days this November and I’m grateful for the drop in temperature. I’m grateful to wake up to a land covered in snow and the crunch of frozen ground under my boots. I’m grateful for the moisture and the crystals and the beauty of the white flakes landing on the trees.
28. Hot showers – As someone who probably doesn’t bathe as often as others think she should, I am grateful for hot showers. I’m grateful for hot water and knowing that the water I use is clean and safe. I’m trying to time my gratefulness to five minutes or less. . .
29. Fireplaces – One of my favorite things about my apartment is the fireplace. I love the hearth and the possibility that comes with a fireplace. I’m mesmerized by flames and warmth. I’m so, so glad we don’t have a fake-wood-flip-the-switch-fireplace. I haven’t yet used it this year, but I’m looking forward to dark nights in front of the fire, reading by flickering flames, while drinking hot tea. Home and hearth warm up my heart.
30. My mind and my self – This one doesn’t sound very humble or gracious, but I really am grateful for who I am. I couldn’t be anyone else, but I’m also grateful that I don’t want to be anyone else. I feel pretty happy and comfortable with this sack of bones and all that makes up my being. Yes, I have lots of faults and bad habits and selfishness and struggles, but I’m grateful for that as well. I am working to improve and to be better and at the same time, I backslide and regress, but I’m grateful for the try and the life I’ve been given.
What fills you with gratitude? What struggles and pursuits are you grateful for? Who or what do you take for granted? Does that really mean you’re so very grateful? How do we go from “take for granted” to “grateful for the treasure”? What is it that helps us bring Thanksgiving into our every day?