“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” – Meister Eckhart
Have you noticed it? The holidays are starting earlier and earlier. Now it’s no longer Black Friday. The entire month of November is dedicated to shopping. Christmas decorations have been up since the day after Halloween and holiday music is filling the airwaves.
Ah. The holidays. They stir much up in us, don’t they?
And it is Thanksgiving. Already. Despite the blare of commercialism, Turkey Day always sneaks up on me. As do those meetings in life where I am sent. That’s right. Sent.
Each morning I ask the Divine to lead me where I can be of service. It’s not about me, by any stretch. But about being open and present. Listening. I’m still learning how to do this. It’s a practice.
So today I ran into a neighbor. She’s been having a rough time of it since her husband died. She’s moving, plowing her way out of boxes and memories, and she’s still grieving. She doesn’t know how she’ll get through Thanksgiving. I opened my heart. I listened. I hugged her.
I bumped into another woman I know. She’s elderly and when I asked about her plans for Thanksgiving, she said she would be alone. I asked if I could bring her some food, visit with her. She said she had food and would be fine. Should I have pushed harder? The thought of her having no one on this holiday wrenched my spirit. I may still bring her some pie and leave it at her door.
These not-so-by-chance encounters (arranged by a Higher Power) led me to thinking that I am very blessed. But to be honest, it hasn’t felt that way. It’s been a more-than crap year for me. I fell and busted out my front teeth. Then I got ill. I’m still not 100 percent. Because of all this, I haven’t been able to care for dad as I once did.
The women I bumped into are having crap years, too. This isn’t about comparison, about whose suffering is greater than another’s, but about how life can often take away our breath, waylay us with pain, death, loneliness or whatever it is. How we are all in this thing called “being human” together.
Despite hardships, however, we can still find some inkling of gratitude in it all. Through my various health challenges, I had to keep reminding myself, “I have much to be thankful for. I am so blessed.” I didn’t break any bones. I have food and shelter, family and friends. I can breathe. Move.
Indeed, being thankful takes practice. Moment by moment. As one of my favorite authors Sue Monk Kidd writes:
“To internalize something requires practice—doing something over and over again until what was once foreign and difficult has become easier and more natural—second nature.”
Sue Monk-Kidd goes on to say:
“Gratitude is a virtue … it is about how we perceive and how we think about what we encounter. Seeing … that even though we might not have everything we want or the best of everything, what we do have is more than many people elsewhere have, that it is enough, and that what we do have is something that we can and ought to be grateful for if we appreciate it and get beyond our constant craving.”
So on Thanksgiving, I am thinking about my neighbor who lost her husband, the woman who will eat alone, all refugees displaced because of wars or natural disasters, those who are struggling without enough food or warmth or family. I am remembering them to the Divine and thankful for what I do have. And asking, how can I serve or help those who are hurting … in my own corner of the world?
Once I am fully mended, I am going to pursue that in earnest. I can’t give from an empty cup. But in truth, I know each time I am thankful — and of service — I am filling that cup.
So, yes, we have one official day of Thanksgiving. It’s a start. But it’s so much better to be thankful every day and every moment, where we focus on our blessings, all the while mindful that life is uncertain and we are all fragile.
And while the holidays seem to encroach on us earlier and earlier, perhaps we can use that time to gain a healthier perspective.
” … whenever we look at what we have and who we have as if for the last time—when we see people as fragile, imperfect, impermanent, hurt, struggling, and riding on a common train—then we have perspective,” Sue Monk Kidd writes.
So, yes, it’s all about perspective. And practice. The women I met today gave me both. And I am thankful.