Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Gratitude and Gratefulness

Everyone's talking about gratitude this time of year. As this first holiday launches us into the month-long season of lights, food and family -- life takes on a kind of glow. We link back to earlier, warmer memories--though for many people, this nostalgic feeling is a bit of a fabrication; wrought more from old TV shows-Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, The Cosby Show--than our own real experience of the holidays.

This year, Im determined to change that--to create a holiday season that celebrates all the blessings in my life NOW. A holiday that doesn't impose impossilbe expectations onto a messy day of imperfect encounters but celebrates them instead... accepting and loving each thing that happens AS IS.

That's what this year, and these holidays are about for me now.

Of course, I will remember...
Uncle David standing at the head of the table with his carving knife, cousins assembled along the table in Great Neck (at our house) or Schenectady (at Uncle Vernon's) or whatever restaurant Aunt Elaine has chosen when its her turn to host the annual family feasat. I remember fondly, and hungrily, my mother's brussels sprouts in brown butter, her cranberry orange relish and Aunt Esther's Foolproof Apple Cake. Remembering, I grow nostalgic for those family feasts my family built, and then, when children grew, and all went our separate ways, abandoned.

Holidays do this--bring to mind old friends, dear family members -- the parents who sheltered and raised us, the siblings with whom we wrestled, shared secrets and ganged up on those parents, the cousins who knocked us off the back of our grandmother's sofa (I am talking to you, Laura!). We remember those we've lost and those we have depended on all these years to "be there" for us. It's a time to remember, to remind ourselves of the ways that perhaps we might be more "there" for them.

But holidays also give us the chance, every single year. to make new memories--better memories. Holidays are a time when even if we don't say grace, grace is present. In truth, it's there every day. But during the holidays, we make the time to notice and say, "Thanks," through prayer or simply through appreciation of all the blessings of our lives--and that gives the holidays a little extra oomph, a little extra magic, a little more potential to move us toward being a little more aligned with what we REALLY care about.

This year I feel doubly--triply--blessed by our new President Elect and the vision with which he speaks, the invitation he offers to participate more fully in civic life (perhaps we are all now "community organizers"?); and the gratefulness (and blessed relief) of his leadership. Because of this brilliant, hopeful man, my 17-year-old daughter said to me: "I am so proud to be an American. I never knew what that meant before." This year, I am grateful, deeply, for that.

In that spirit-gratitude and hopefulness--I am adding two new practices to my Thanksgiving routine.

First, I am giving thanks for the jumble of feelings that come this time of year. Holidays are not easy. Old hurts are renewed as we're reminded of "that thing" a relative or friend always pulls; the way that one particular person always manages to hog the conversation or the sweet potatoes or the attention of the person we wanted to talk with. This year, I'm giving thanks for the people who "push my buttons" for they are mirrors, sent by grace (oh, yes they are!) to remind me of the places where I am not perfect (and may even be a little bit annoying) myself.

Second, I'm going to begin Thanksgiving Day with gratitude--for the joy of welcoming Max home from college, the pleasure I will take in preparing my contribution to the feast at my sister in law's home. (Green salad with pomegranate seeds and crumbled feta) I will be grateful for the car trip with my family--and even the traffic (Oh, bless the darn traffic, too!).

This year, I will sit at the table with my husband's big, loud family--and my quiet mother, whom they've so graciously swept into their fold and as I try really hard not to eat (too many) carbs, I will attempt to feel gratitude as long as I can--for the earth that gave us the food we'll enjoy, for the people who love and include me in their lives, for the people I cherish and all they bring to mine. I will give thanks to God and to the infinitely supportive universe in which I live each day. And when I climb into bed, I will end the day with gratefulness, the state of expectant "thank you", arms wide open for all that is yet to come.

Happy Thanksgiving!
Amy

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