Grateful Challenged

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This tree is putting on quite a show.  It’s the only one with berries, a brazen red surprise, surrounded by the hollow remains of tall grasses and silver stalks of spent milkweed.  I’ve been trying to get to know it but the wind always seems to get there first, shifting the network of shapes and lines before I can see anything.  Finally, today I just gave up.  I stuck the phone in front of the reddest branch and wished upon a star for something pretty to happen.

I also bought a notebook today, to write thank yous in.  It seems so obvious, why didn’t I think of it before?  (Because Oprah did, that’s why.  Damn.  I forgot that.)

Like I said on day one, giving thanks all month long promised to challenge me.  If all you wanted to hear were the good parts, you might want to skip ahead to the end.  Let me know what you find when you get there.  I’m still sorting this out, myself.

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Grateful And Then

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Today’s picture isn’t in light of giving thanks all month long.  It’s just the shadow of this morning’s sunrise.

Its so hard that I feel grateful to people who also have really hurt me.  (I don’t mean some kind of bullshit silver lining “I feel grateful they hurt me, it made me a better person.” I hate that.)

Being hurt doesn’t spoil my thankfulness.  I almost wish it did.  I’m very clear about the 2 or 3 people I know I can’t forgive.  Instead, I have to live with the complications of love and disappointment.  Just like you do, with me.

Mostly, though, its love.

Grateful Lull

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Everybody was happy to see the sun today.  At the pond behind the library, birds still shelter, crowding the trees with silhouettes almost indistinguishable from the curled up leaves that cling to the branches.  They sing enthusiastically, maybe to keep the growl of the wind at bay.  It is a sweet surprise to hear such a thick cluster of voices in the cold, fresh air.

I know exactly how the birds feel.  Everyday, I have so much to do, and I know I’ll never finish it all before this lull is over.  It takes a lot of discipline to make sure I take a walk.  Anything, the slightest hint of an errand, can seem so much more important than facing up to the fact that I can’t do everything.  Even though it is risky to be unemployed three Mondays in a row, I have to remember:  Giant maple leaves matter, too.

I wanted you to see – it really is so beautiful here.

Grateful Does

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It isn’t getting any easier to write about giving thanks.  Each encounter with the friends who kept my little ship afloat makes the picture brighter, sweeter, and closer, closer, closer to the heart.

Thursday, when I took my phone out of my coat pocket, the dialer already displayed a number – 8.  Infinity, reciprocity, the mathematician’s answer to yin and yang.  The phone had matched that number to a single name – the friend who helped me start my career.  The friend who I discovered to be a shared (and much loved) acquaintance between me and two women I met for the very first time on Wednesday.

I dialed her number, not yet sure what the purpose of the call would be.  (When you get a sign like this, you don’t screw around – you make the call.)  Surprised to hear from me, my friend listened kindly to the tale of unexpected meetings and magical numbers.  “I don’t believe in chance,” she said matter-of-factly.   I knew she didn’t.

As my friend excitedly detailed her volunteer work – filling shoeboxes with everything from notebooks to toys, to be distributed to millions of needy children in countries around the world – her happiness glowed right through the phone.  Her purpose, her fulfillment, her joy in having a way to make her love for children real, filled me with happiness, as well.    “You have millions of kids now,” I said.

At last, I realized the true purpose of the call.  “I just want you to know, in case I haven’t said it enough before, how much I appreciate you helping me get started.”  “I did?”  she answered.  “I guess I don’t remember.”  I reminded her of each step where her friendship had opened a door along my path.  “It’s because of you, I found a way I could support and take care of myself,”  I told her.  “I didn’t ever believe I would be able to do that.”

The help my friend gives all her new children far outshines, in her eyes, any favor she did me – that much is beautifully, necessarily clear.  No reason to make a big deal out of it.  But the fact remains:  her ordinary generosity started my ball rolling – and to me, it is a very, very big deal.

You can’t anticipate the outcome of the good you do.  That is why you have to do any little bit you feel you can.  You just never know.

Grateful Just for You

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Maybe you could tell me a story tonight, about giving thanks all month long.  Have you noticed how many kind people are in your life?  Have you felt like showing them what their gift means to you?

My sleepy eyes are getting in the way of writing.   So maybe I will tell you more of a story tomorrow.  But I promised to try extra special hard to make you something beautiful today.  I hope you like it.  Every word is true.

Grateful Ordinary

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It goes without saying that I try to make something beautiful to share with you
more or less all week long.
Something beautiful from the ordinary things I do and see, because I think you
might notice them, too.
It deserves to be said, if you didn’t know
how lucky I feel to know you will be here.
Makes me feel like giving you something beautiful to say
“Thank you.”
I will try extra special hard tomorrow, but for today
reading by lace light
is what I can offer.

Grateful Change

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What if, when I said “Thank you,” you weren’t willing to let it in?

Maybe it was my mistake.  Those moments of connection seem to come along once in a blue moon.  I can practice on myself, but I can’t force anyone else to join in.

I guess if you admit what you already gave was enough, there is a risk I might not need you anymore.  (I might even be talking about myself here – what do you think?)

Sometimes,  when I say “No,” that is a form of “Thank you.”  I am willing to trust you enough not to go along, just to keep things as they are.

The reality is, I can stop the car, marvel at the sky, and make whatever picture I see, or I can hide a little bit longer.  Either way, the moment passes.  The light escapes.  That’s what light does.

Maybe “change” is the sincerest “Thank you” of all.

Grateful Light

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if you look for illumination

move barely

an inch one way
and there
the indistinct divides
the light reclaims itself
shoots flaming arrows
broadcasts every channel
transmits ancient telegraphs.

maybe this is the only way we can read
the signal,
filtered through arms and leaves
or branches and hands
who absorb,
conduct,
transmute,
up then down
back and, back again
can the feeling be any simpler than this?

Grateful Feeling

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“People with depression…need a great deal from others, but we are embarrassed and confused by our needs so we don’t articulate them well…instead keeping secret wishes locked in our hearts…We depressives have trouble giving up the idea that there is a secret to happiness that others know and we don’t, that others could make us happy if they loved us enough, but out of perversity choose not to.”  Undoing Depression, Richard O’Connor, Ph. D

As long as I can remember I have lived with the feeling that I simultaneously needed too much from others, and shouldn’t need anything at all.  Talk about a dog chasing its tail!  (Yeah, you should definitely look that up on youtube next time you need to stop your mind.)  Cutting yourself off from acknowledging your real needs, if only to yourself, is no way to live.  That’s why depression feels so bad.  Needing and receiving become threatening when you stuff them both into Pandoras Box.

“Gratitude …is a feeling or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive,” according to Wikipedia contributors.     It sounds simple.  Acknowledge the tenderness of your (perhaps unspoken) need to another who has (perhaps unwittingly) supplied your want. Here is the elegant reciprocity that makes life feel good  acknowledgement creates a bond between giver and receiver which nourishes both.  Experiencing gratitude, however, presents an especially poignant difficulty for someone in my situation.   The deeper, the more basic the want, the trickier it is for me to admit to anyone, at all.

At the bottom of Pandoras Box, though, I think I have discovered a trap door.  It is labelled “grace.”  The magic words that unlock this door are “free”  and “unmerited.”  Grace is closely intertwined with mercy and forgiveness, and honors the reality that you don’t earn everything you receive in life.  To my mind, grace levels the playing field where we all hash out the insecurities of fear and indebtedness.  “You’re gonna need a few things,”  Grace says.  “Everyone does.  Do your best with what’s here for you already, and then let’s see what you’ve got to give.”

Grateful Upright

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Is walking an expression of gratitude, in and of itself?  It is certainly a dialogue of trust, between the most ancient manifestation of our human identity and the grassy sweeps of East African savannahs.  It turns out those of us who could travel on just 2 feet got a little more of everything a species needs to keep going – food, shelter, babies.   Ambulating away from the trees was risky, but staying put was risky too.  Two million years later, walking upright looks like a sound evolutionary investment.  It made Homo Sapiens a success.

You can walk for fitness all you want, but for me that is “a good walk, spoiled.”  Monitoring my heart rate while calculating fuel combustion only served to spread the infection of guilty failure to yet another activity.  The pleasure of walking without a timeline, striding along to my body’s native, unhurried pace, recently rehabilitated a more critically wounded facet of my health.  Daily walks rescued me from deep anger.  I don’t believe it was as simple as walking off the physical side of my emotions, though I am sure anyone who heard my furious mutterings on some of those walks might disagree.  Maybe my emotions can’t tell the difference between pounding the pavement, and pounding a nemesis.   I think walking gave my anger something to do – literally, a way to move on.

To get away from myself, I do not have to go very far.  From my door to Silent Street, where the library, goose pond, prairie and funeral home each stake out a corner, takes just 12 minutes.  On the way, I always find the unexpected:  a plastic skeleton dangling from a tree, fallen apples crowded in the gutter, maple leaves the size of manhole covers (well, almost.)  The price of admission to this spectacle is admitting that I need it.  I need to keep moving, and (here’s the gratitude part) I need to relish moving on my own terms, while I still can.  Walking confirms my right to be here.  It is an expression of selfhood as basic as any hunger.  It proves the machinery I need to balance is intact, whether I stroll or stumble.  When I walk, I give the sun a chance to shine on me, one step at a time.