Thursday, July 11, 2013

Gratitude

This is a very personal and emotional post that I wrote at Thanksgiving (2012), but was too nervous to post it publicly for fear of upsetting others with my opinion. Now that it's not so current, and less likely to irk people - as well as relevant to a personal and blog project I intend to start soon - I thought it was a good time to share. So excuse the references to the holiday, since Thanksgiving clearly isn't next Thursday! ;)

**************************


I'm not going to pretend that I'm not a holiday junkie, or that I'm "beyond" the material hype-y side of this season, because...I am pretty much a rabid celebratory lunatic from my birthday, on the very last day of August, until January 1st of the following year. And even then - it's just a little break before I go all out for Valentine's Day, and then St. Patrick's Day (and I'm not even a little bit Irish!)...and let's not even get anywhere near Easter for the moment. I get sucked into the hype of every holiday, right along with everyone else. And my take on that is....if there is a reason to go out and celebrate, love, share, and give - do it! They are the moments that inspire gratitude and tradition. And isn't that what life is all about?

Here's the thing about Thanksgiving, though.

It's kind of a newer thing for me. It was one of the lesser hyped up holidays of my childhood. I'm not sure why that is, exactly...but I have very few specific Thanksgiving memories (one consists of making paper bag vests to resemble Indians and putting on a silly play with my cousins...I'm not even entirely sure that it's a completely accurate memory, hmm). I think it's more that....it was this silly holiday where people just sit around and eat a bunch of yucky foods (I have since changed my tune about my food preferences, and think Thanksgiving food is kind of the awesomest), and it came between the glory of a sugar-fueled Halloween and the cookie baking, snowman building, Santa-Clausy, LOTS O PRESENTS phenomenon that is the Christmas season. It's not really known for being one of the KID holidays, yaknow?

I didn't really start appreciating the tradition of Thanksgiving until adulthood, and I don't know if it's because of the fact that my love for it came later in life....but I have a special affection for it now. That, and I kind of feel like the traditions that have been going on for the last 5-ish years are MINE, and my own little family's. We've kind of made our own along the way...and that really makes it something extraordinary for me.

I absolutely adore cooking my share of Thanksgiving dinner while the Macy's parade is playing in the background and my oldest shouts cheers as his favorite characters float by in gigantic fashion. (If you're wondering, I usually make the stuffing, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, some form of dessert, this bizarre celery-cream cheese thing my husband insists on having every Thanksgiving, and later, the gravy...my mom usually handles the rest.) I LOVE eating dinner together after a hurried production of putting it all together - taking annoying silly pictures as we do so, football playing in the background (even though I don't like football!). I love scouring the Black Friday ads and plotting out or shopping plan of attack. And maaaan do I love the leftovers.

But there is one special thing, clearly, the most obvious of all....that makes me love Thanksgiving as much as I do. And that, my friends, is what I want to talk about today. Gratitude.

Let's define it, shall we?

noun
1. the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful (dictionary.com)

No, no no, official dictionary source. Sorry, but you've got it all wrong. That is such a simple, one-dimensional, inaccurate description of Gratitude. Gratitude is LIFE! And here's the part where I could go on and on and on, typing in philosophical circles, and probably sounding interesting to no one but myself, but I'm going to attempt to explain what I mean.

In this past year alone, after having 28 years of possibility to "get it", I've finally learned the essentials about Gratitude. (It's about time!) And to me, the formal definition doesn't exactly cover it. While I think a whole host of things can describe it - thankfulness, appreciation, acknowledgement, praise, etc...what it actually IS, is different. Gratitude, to me, is love, affection, acceptance, and most of all - REALITY.

I'm guessing that the hardest part for you to grasp, from MY list, is the reality bit. And chances are, I won't be able to describe it for you - that's some sort of crazy enlightenment stuff you have to discover for yourself (mine came to me in the shower, as does nearly every other revelation in my life, what's with that?). But here is the simplest proof I can think of. Most of my readers are parents, and so I'm going to describe this towards them, but if you don't have a child - picture your pet, or maybe your students if you're a teacher, or...I don't know, your patients if you're a nurse...something along those lines.

You know those moments, when things are relatively calm, and you just find yourself....very aware of your child and what he/she is doing? Whether it's playing with something, interacting with their sibling, displaying a skill they've just picked up, expressing something positive like empathy or giving? You feel that butterflies in your stomach kind of happiness? And in that moment, you swell with pride, you think about how wonderful it is that you've been given this beautiful being, how miraculous it is that they came to you, JUST as they are, and how their existence just makes sense? (If you don't have these moments, START MANUFACTURING THEM ASAP, like yesterday.) Those moments are what become my memories. Better than pictures or words documenting details - those are the moments that burn my babies' smiles and laughs in my memory just as they are that moment. Those are the times that I can recall exactly how I felt about them when they were that small. And memories....well, aren't they our reality? Our physical, human bodies and all of their wonders and limitations operate on memory. Whether it's an emotion, a moment, a language, muscle movement, math - it's all memory. And the moments you stop and make something last - whether you're studying for a test, or watching your baby - they become real.

If you're not in the least bit spiritual, I'm going to get a bit crazy town on you for a second - bear with me. I'm a firm believer in The Secret. It has profoundly changed my life. Since reading the book, I have a better understanding of....well, everything. I'm not perfect at harnessing what I desire, I am not a master of the law of attraction - if I was, I would be a millionaire right about now. I can't grasp the bit about time and space being imaginary, it's....well it's not the point right now. BUT, my thought process has completely and forever changed. Gratitude is a part of my daily life. EVERYTHING I DO is infused with it. While gratitude, thankfulness, and thanksgiving are used interchangeably, linguistically,  they are very different things to me. And that, I think, is where people get a little lost.

I'm probably going to make a few people angry by saying this, and maybe even sound a bit cynical....but, I CANNOT STAND the "days of thanksgiving" status updates happening on Facebook right now. This probably sounds very backwards and contradictory to everything that I've been saying, but here's the deal. Most of those updates being posted are generic possessive answers (again, not all, but MOST)..."my kids, my husband, my pets, my house, my job...(MY MY MY MY!)", slapped with a few complimentary adjectives, said in a "look how fabulous my life is" way - all with the expectation that it will garner "likes" and comments about how great they are. THAT IS NOT THE POINT. Gratitude is in the DETAILS. It's not the sharing that I see a problem with so much...I think it's great that people are thinking in terms of thanksgiving at all. But that's not gratitude. It's superficial. It's not thought about deep enough. It's too quick, too simple, too social.

So here's where you could argue..."Well, maybe they aren't going for the whole gratitude, enlightenment bit, maybe they just want to say they are thankful."

That's fab. But as someone that lives through gratitude colored glasses (whatever color that could possibly be), it irks me. When people post their surface thankfulness on a social networking site set up for peer recognition, it comes off as the opposite of gratitude to me - it becomes bragging. And that is why I am saying it here, in my own little space where I can say whatever I want as long as I'm held up to my own personal standards of appropriateness and class and courtesy, and not to individuals.

(And as a token of vulnerability and honesty, here's an ironic fact: I have a really hard time saying "Thank You" to some people in certain situations. Weird, right? It's not that I'm not thankful for whatever it is they've given or offered or done for me, but I am an extremely in-person emotion-phobe. I don't show anything to anyone, and I realize that's probably an issue...but gratitude is a huge deal to me (clearly!), and it doesn't come without emotion for me, and sometimes I'm just too terrified to express it outside of my own home. I'm working on it, I swear. Though if you're wondering, my husband & kids are always drowning in my thank yous...they get the best of me, of course.)

I'm not the only person to ever think along these lines. Check it out.




 I am so, so very in love with the first quote. The second one is my November chalkboard quote, but only because I don't think my handwriting could hang in long enough to make the first one cute. ha ;)
My point here is not to make anyone feel bad, or to squash their efforts in trying to express how thankful  they are for the people and things they have in life. It's the execution. And I guess why it bothers me so much right now, is the fact that....while we're all human, we're all prideful at times, and we're all guilty of boasting about something here and there...but we have this beautiful holiday that focuses on the idea of gratitude - the force behind life itself - and it's become a stage of displaying what one has on the other. It seems that, once again, society has taken something beautiful and turned it into another rat race.
So this Thursday, when you sit down and say your grace, and you look around at the people about to share a big, plentiful meal with you - open your heart, think deep, and really feel gratitude. Memorize the moment and make it real. And in doing so, you will have the greatest thing there is to have.

1 comment:

  1. You said it yourself, "that is why I am saying it here, in my own little space where I can say whatever I want as long as I'm held up to my own personal standards of appropriateness and class and courtesy, and not to individuals."

    Never hold back your beautiful words again. This is your world and we choose to come in and visit your thoughts. <3

    ReplyDelete