Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thank You for My Gratitude

It’s hard for me to think of Thanksgiving in the terms that other people say they do: Take some time every day to say something you are thankful for…Say grace at this meal by listing the things you are thankful for…If you had a wonderful mother (father, brother, child, cousin, etc), post this to your status for a day…

I have no memories of a Norman Rockwell meal with Granny placing the long-awaited bird on the table to the sound track of oohs and ahhs. My mother hated cooking and we never had turkey. We did not have a family of cousins, uncles and aunts who gathered together for one or two big meals during the holiday season. I didn’t miss it, because it had never happened. I loved my cousins, but they were teenagers when I was born and they lived in another state. Neither of my grandmothers were living. I had one great aunt whom we all treasured, but she stayed home that day to cook the big meal for her brothers who lived with her. We must have celebrated Thanksgiving with something, but I don’t remember what.

I didn’t have turkey until I was in my late teens, and it always just seemed like an overgrown chicken to me. I learned to cook it and had it often that first year of marriage because it was so cheap. I loved all the things you could do with the leftovers, and with cooking a whole turkey for two people there were always plenty of leftovers. The first Thanksgiving meal I prepared was one month after my wedding, in November of 1960. We had the boss and his wife over for the meal. It was a breeze as far as I remember, but all I know is that I made a cornbread stuffing with oysters. Probably I made pecan pie because it was one of the first things I had learned to cook.

We didn’t serve wine with Thanksgiving in the South in the 1950s. There was no more drinking on that day than any others, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t much. There was no tradition of watching the game and getting drunk that has become part of the Thanksgiving ritual in so many homes today. I never saw the family brawls most people report from the tension of trying to create loving scenes of family joy and unity.

As to the thanks-giving,I didn’t learn about real gratitude until I was in my 50s. I was at my first Al-Anon meeting and a man, leading the group, said, “Whenever I get in a fight with my wife, I stop myself now. I say, ‘This is not about her. It’s about me. I want to blame her, I want her to change—but all I can change is myself; all I can change is my reaction to her.’” I had never heard anything like this before. It’s not about her. It’s about me. I was overcome by a feeling that I identified as relief. In these meetings, I learned that moment, it could be about me. “Me” was the only thing I could work on, the only thing I could change.

It was several months later at another meeting when someone suggested the topic of gratitude for the group to talk about. She expressed gratitude for a hammock chair she had bought for herself and the peace she experienced just swinging in it. When it was my turn to talk I said, “Gratitude! That is the silliest topic I’ve ever heard brought up in these meetings. I see nothing spiritual about swinging in a hammock chair…” The group laughed indulgently and told me that as a newcomer my response was valid and that they hadn’t grasped the healing power of gratitude for small things until they had been in the program for a while themselves. They went around the circle, as is done in 12-Step groups, speaking one by one, all contributing their notions of gratitude until finally it sank in, to me. What I had felt that first meeting when the the brave man spoke of fixing himself instead of yelling at his wife—the gift of being allowed to make your life about yourself and not about what some other person is doing or not doing. The feeling I had thought of as relief-at-long-last was not so much relief as gratitude.

Like many intangibles (serenity, for example; and sobriety), in the 12-Step programs, gratitude is regarded as palpable, malleable, a tool to be sought and found. It’s even a goal, to be planned for, sought and found every day of your life, not just when there’s an abundance of food and good cheer around. Gratitude can provide a path to a whole and resplendent life. Finding gratitude on a deep level is part of finding yourself. In Hoboken, or in Fairhope, in the movies, in a book, in creation, or in discovering insights, wherever you might be.

I’ve had many pleasant Thanksgiving meals, in my own homes and in those of others, and I’m sure a national day of thanks is a positive celebration in any society. The concept of gratitude, while suffusing this one day in most lives, transcends the day, the nation, the spirit and can bring a great deal more in depth and breadth to our lives than a day of eating, drinking, and watching football on television ever can.

I’m looking forward to a solitary, simple Thanksgiving Day this year. I love to cook and will give myself something special on the day. But the most special part of the day is the moment of personal realization. The joy of gratitude itself. That is the one thing every human being can give thanks for.


Nan said...

This was so very lovely, Mary Lois. If I lived nearer, I would drop in on Thursday to say hi.

I like the notion of feeling 'gratitude' so much more than feeling 'blessed.' If one is blessed, is another not? It always makes me cringe a bit. But gratefulness is something very different. It is lovely to be grateful. To thank people. To be thankful. To be full of thanks.

donal said...

Meaningful and insightful! Growing up in Europe before the transformation brought on by American media I never experienced 'Thanksgiving'. Today, B and I have our own tradition of beginning the season with oyster stew, quiche, eggs benedict and kir royal - which we serve throughout then holidays to guests. This coupled with a frantic effort over three days to get the tree up (small but over laddered with trinkets from the UK and Paris) and wreaths made begins our season of entertaining. (I am continually amazed at how little entertaining most Americans do and how often guests coming to our home otherwise spend their time alone.)

Steve said...

As a matter of fact this was so nice a read, I had to come back and read it again.

My sister and I were the oldest two grandchildren, the earliest holidays were small simple affairs. My mother was born during the depression and both of my parents worked to make ends meet, there were few frills.

Over the years the family grew and grew to the tune of about 50 or so odd cousins (emphasis on odd, lol).
Those holidays became very Rockwellian. Memories I will always cherish.

It is now, with their loss and being back to a family of just two or three at the Thanksgiving table that I understand my gratitude in terms of 'self' a bit better.

Beautiful and touching post!

nancyccain said...

Beautifully written and a very personal view of what "Thanksgiving" has meant to you. I loved it!

Nancy from Fairhope

Cheryl A. said...

This was a great piece Mary. Truly. I've found that living in gratitude is the only sure way to have any kind of happiness. When I'm most unhappy is when I haven't gotten in touch with the many things in my life I have to be grateful for.

And it's true that you can only work and change yourself not someone else. This hits close to home for me too and you know why.

I loved this. Thank you for writing it.

jon smith said...

Modern times oft forget that the original thanks given was for the opportunity to not starve to death. Whatever else it has come to mean alters the celebration of basic life enabled by others.
The way it is celebrated makes no difference, I suppose. And whether on the giving side or recieving side makes none either.
But, somehow involving others does make a difference. It took someone else to recognize ME
to generate thanks for giving.

Shirley said...

Keep coming back..... things will click eventually

JudyMac said...

Wonderfully realistic ..... the idea that there are a lot of people who celebrate Thanksgiving in a manner far different than most people realize, i.e., no big to-do with a turkey on the table and family all around. My daughter and I are now a family of two, which makes celebrating holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas a very small affair. My goal is to make Christmas a time to travel. Maybe not this year, but soon.

I'm going to pass your Thanksgiving post to several of my friends as it is a very thoughtful piece.