Hold on. That whirring sound you hear is my mind striving to think of a way to express my gratitude for so many areas of my life. After all, it is Thanksgiving here in America and that is our appointed season of gratitude. It seems easier these days to give thanks than in times past. That statement confuses even me because to someone looking in from the outside of my life, they might think I have nothing for which to be thankful. They are wrong.
When I was a child and Thanksgiving rolled around, I was grateful to be out of school for four days, grateful for the fun of a pile of fall leaves to jump into and the joy of sitting down to a table with so many of my favorite foods and my family. I now think part of my love for this holiday is because it heralds the beginning of the holiday season. Mom would make her cornbread stuffing, and in later years she made two batches so my dear Dad could have his favorite type with oysters in it which many of us thought was disgusting. I came to appreciate it as an adult. I was grateful for the odiferous splendor of the roasting turkey, laughing at my Dad picking at uncooked food in the kitchen while my Mom playfully whacked at him with a spoon. “Bill, you get out of here now.”
I remember making turkey center pieces out of large Idaho potatoes by adding a plumed tail of colored feathers cut from colored construction paper. Cranberry sauce was something that came in a tin can and looked rosy and festive with the rings of the can around it as it was opened and served in a special elongated dish. It always seemed a shame to violate it with a spoon. My mother’s gravy never had lumps in it, although it always was giblet gravy with tiny chopped bits of turkey liver and the other giblets along with a fair amount of the delicate meat from the long turkey neck, which had been simmering on the stove since early morning when her turkey went into the oven. Mom always cooked her turkey upside down so the juices would flow down into the breast making it moist and tasteful. The odors of crisp turkey skin with the saliva inducing whiffs coming from the stuffing with the combined odors of sage, onions and celery. Even now, as I write this many years later I can experience the same sensory sensations of pleasure. Can you smell it, too?
After the turkey came out of the oven and we were nearing the edge of our appetites in anticipation, I recall my dear Dad setting a large tray on the counter beside the turkey. He would fill two large plates with the variety of foods from the stove and refrigerator, helped by my Mom. He loaded that tray to overflowing, never forgetting the pumpkin pie with whipped cream. We all understood that he would take that huge tray of food to an elderly couple he had met through his work. Their name was Mr. and Mrs. Paine. I know they were childless and Dad included them in all the major holiday meals at our house for many years. Apparently they felt more comfortable eating at their house instead of ours and were quite infirmed and began to rely on him to show up.
Through that simple, consistent act of giving, Dad taught me to share our abundance. I was often sick as a child growing up and missed a lot of school. Hundreds of strep infections were always returning as I had it so severely the doctor ordered antibiotics and even specially made topical mouth washes to get the bacteria that would grow into the roof of my mouth. Even with all the sicknesses, I never realized as a child how much I had to be thankful for until the year between 11 and 12 years-old when I had to go to bed for a year due to rheumatic fever. I wasn’t frightened until my Dad would come and sit beside my bed, hold my hand and cry. He was such a tender man. Both of my parents were wonderful during that time and I remember watching I LOVE LUCY on a TV in my bedroom. That may not seem like much but for that period of time it was huge and Lucy brought laughter into my life. I learned a lot about gratitude during that period of my life. I was very grateful when the nurse who took blood every week could get into my vein on the first try while I lay in the back of our car in their office parking lot.
My gratitude extended even more to my Mom when I became a teen and learned to be of more help in the kitchen. My sisters were older than I and may or may not be expected for dinner with us as their own families grew or they moved far away. I am grateful today for mother’s instruction, not always tactful and eventually after I had a home of my own I also became quite a good cook. I think her love for cooking was contagious and I caught it.
As a young woman going off to college, I learned to appreciate my loving home and suffered fierce homesickness my first few months. It seems that life becomes exponentially more complicated as we grow and brings with it a measure of gratitude. Recognizing those times is the key.
Some of the seasons of gratitude in my own life have been the greatest during times of trouble and need. I’ve come to believe that is why spoiled children aren’t very nice people. It takes a certain leaven of want and/or suffering to cause us to have appreciation. Appreciation is the first cousin of gratitude which is a close relative to thanksgiving.
It fascinates me how pain and misery can be graciously interspersed with thankfulness. Like sunshine in the rainy season, it brightens dark times. Detecting experiences to make one thankful requires an open ended sense of appreciation. It can come to you at the most surprising moments. A woman who is being struck can say thank you when the beating ends. A man who is fearful of providing for his family is filled with more appreciation and gratitude than a man who is just moving up the corporate ladder, never knowing the fear of having hungry children. It appears even gratitude is a relative value.
Many of us who suffer chronic pain each day of our lives, often for many years, know how good it can feel when the pain stops, albeit briefly. When the pain is relieved permanently, we often begin to take life for granted and forget to be thankful. Perhaps we try to erase pain from our memories and should instead, hold onto it just enough to appreciate a pain free day. Like a couple in love who direly want to get married and do, they eventually find “the honeymoon is over.” That phrase is part of our lexicon because it is so true. Some things should be remembered.
It appears gratitude and giving thanks is something we need to do again and again. It apparently “wears out” with time. This summer we were without a street and sidewalk for two months. It was difficult. Now we have a road and sidewalk and after two weeks, we are already used to it…again. It has become apparent to me over the years that we mere mortals gain a certain satisfaction from complaining. I wonder why we enjoy it.
It has also become crystal clear that giving thanks can become a habit. It works the muscles of the heart and the spirit and keeps complaining away from the door of our conscience selves.
You can find gratitude in all areas of life; in adversity, in history, in nature and in other living creatures, only to name a few. For instance, just yesterday I read an article about Lewis and Clark who opened the explorations here in the Northwest. The article was about a wretched winter experience they had sleeping out in the elements, rocks falling onto them from the wind and rain, the Columbia on the other side as it emptied into the Pacific. Can you imagine how cold and wet they were those many years ago, paddling about in a huge tree hollowed out to be a canoe? Small wonder they named that small section of southwest Washington “Dismal Nitch,” Dismal indeed. I can’t even begin to understand that misery.
May I ask you to do a favor for me this holiday? Yes? Try saying thank you at the unexpected times in life. I love to do it when I cross the beautiful Columbia River and see a family of ducks floating on the waves in their waterproof layers. I give thanks when my tiny puppy wags his tail at about the same speed as a hummingbird motorized by the simple joys of life. I constantly thank that tiny dog for all the joy he’s brought into my life in a very hectic and frantic summer. All around us are reasons to be thankful. Tripping but not falling can cause us to say thanks. A good visit with our physician in which we both exchanged meaningful ideas or a new medicine that brings relief is only two of the thousands of reasons we have to express our gratitude.
Look my friends and you will see many reasons to give thanks. Then please pause and do just that. I am thankful for all of you. Have a holiday filled with gratitude for all you have, love or have experienced.