The Thanksgiving of Both/And

Here we are, folks, on the precipice of a Thanksgiving that will by all counts be unique, whether it’s the volume of zoom calls you will be fielding or your attempt to stay warm (and dry in New England) while eating outside – or if it’s simply quieter than usual. Be sure that gratitude is on the menu, despite everything.

I have been trying damn hard not to jump on the “2020 sucks,” “because 2020…,” “totally forgettable,” “worst year ever” bandwagon. It’s telling that I have to make a conscious effort, my face all contorted in a Jim Carrey-esque exaggerated grimace as I wrestle internally with how I feel some days. Some days are just too much. But it’s also not either/or. Surely even during the shit show that has been the last eight months (or more) some good things have also happened. It’s both a shit show AND some good things happened.

Holidays are particularly fraught with either/or thinking. Either it is the tradition I am used to or it sucks and we should write it off. I admit, over the last couple of days I have found myself traipsing down memory lane and getting caught up in the nostalgia of Thanksgiving’s past. Thanksgiving is my family’s most cherished holiday by far. Usually the whole family descends from all across the country for multiple days. That’s not happening this year.

I find myself stopping in the middle of memory lane, a little knot building in my chest, to reckon with what Thanksgiving is not this year. There will not be the anticipation of everyone arriving late Wednesday or early Thursday, the hugs and handshakes and “it’s so good to see you’s.” There will be no road race Thanksgiving morning, no family soccer game, no toothy grins for the camera trying to capture 20 or more people smooshed around the table, no charades after dinner. This year my mom’s care home is locked down on coronavirus red alert, and a recently-returned-from-college relative is Covid positive and in quarantine.

If I got stuck there, I would be plunging down the drain of self-pity with Drano clearing the way. But here’s the truth about Thanksgiving this year: while I am bummed about missing the totally predictable flow of both conversation and events, including the guaranteed antics and laughter that happen whenever my family gets together, I am also friggin’ excited that I am not cooking; I am not cleaning; I am not hosting 20 of my nearest and dearest; I am not traveling. There is no planning required whatsoever and it is downright freaking liberating. It’s like a real, actual break. A holiday, if you will.

Most Thanksgivings I roll up to the Monday morning after just trashed and exhausted, my house disheveled, the laundry piled to the ceiling, and jumping right back into the fray for the frantic sprint to Christmas as if I never actually needed a day off anyway. This year, we didn’t have the annual tradition of guilting-of-my-brother-to-come-East-for-Thanksgiving-even-though-he-has-said-a-million-times-it’s-not-a-convenient-time-of-year-from-him-to-travel. There are no hotel reservations or airport pickups or travel agency level requirements of any sort to coordinate while juggling the rest of life. Did I mention I am not spending all day cooking a meal that people devour in 20 minutes? That does not bring me joy. This also means I don’t have to get groceries. Or clean a million dishes. Cry if you will about this twist of fate, but there are reasons to be happy. Both/and. Not either/or.

Needless to say, the both/and mindset can be incredibly helpful for getting yourself unstuck and it is so much more real than either/or. You can celebrate gratitude for what you have AND recognize that others have much less. You can feel joy AND acknowledge that it’s been an extraordinarily difficult year. You can be and feel and do both AND… We aren’t one-dimensional automatons who feel one way and one way only the way either/or requires. That’s a trap and it’s so stifling. Abundance is a mindset, and it’s not a mindset that flourishes in a world of either/or.

So my Thanksgiving message to you is: take the time to check the narrative in your head. Investigate the tendency toward either/or thinking. Tamp down the noise of the big feelings (the negative ones are super LOUD) and dig a little deeper. Ask yourself if there is room for feeling both frustrated, angry, afraid, sad, lonely AND grateful. There’s no use waiting for the world to steady itself again. You may be waiting a while – and, frankly, it needs to change anyway in many respects. It’s critical to learn to hold and acknowledge all of the feelings, the whole messy, contradictory jumble, together. It changes everything about one’s outlook.

Here’s another truth bomb for you to ponder over your pie – we don’t need to celebrate Thanksgiving when we are told to by a date on the calendar. I know, WHAT?!?! These calendar dates are just human constructs created to keep ourselves propelling forward through life in some sort of organized fashion. I know that they correspond with when kids get off school and that’s significant grown-up reality, of course. I recognize that I can’t just decide to have Thanksgiving on some random Wednesday in February and expect my whole family to show up (though, to be fair, I bet the airfare would be a lot cheaper and no lines at the grocery store! My brother would come from Colorado for sure, no guilting required). I often think about holidays as being a little bit of mind control of the masses. Does anyone ever think about WHY we do this at this particular time or if it even works for you?

So, try this one on for size – we can celebrate thanksgiving when there’s a vaccine and we can properly hug each other and not worry about who may or may not get sick afterwards. It’s dinner, folks, pure and simple. We can -and should – give thanks more than once per year anyway. Thanksgiving 2020 is looking like it might be absolutely delightful in July 2021. Thanksgiving 2021 we can get our gratitude on together in a big way. But, also, I have gratitude right here, right now, in this wonky Thanksgiving 2020 that’s coming right up. Because it’s all in how you see it. It’s a loss and it’s also a win. Both/and. The biggest win of all, of course, is ensuring that everyone in my family is healthy and well and, ideally, alive this time next year. So far so good – and for that, I am extremely grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving! Make of it what you will – don’t forget the gratitude morsels, and don’t forget the masks!

You will be alright.

Wear a mask.

Gratitude Every Single Day

Thanksgiving is a holiday that is all about gratitude, giving thanks, coming together with family and friends to break bread and re-connect.  I could write entire individual blog posts on each item I have to be thankful for: my family, my friends, my health, a roof over my head, feeling safe, the ability to travel freely.  I’ll start right away with a THANK YOU.  I am so grateful for each of those things and more.

For the sake of this not becoming a dissertation, I am going to limit my list to some of the basics that I don’t believe many of us in the U.S. spend much time thinking about.  I am thankful for: clean water that is readily available and inexpensive; ample supplies of food; toilets that flush and plumbing that works; clean and functional hospitals; libraries (FREE books that you can just take at will!); public education for all through 12th grade; a postal service that efficiently gets correspondence, bills, and packages from point A to point B (yes some countries – Guatemala being one – don’t have that).

Of course there are exceptions to even those examples – residents of Flint, MI, surely would not highlight their water system; food insecurity is real and healthy food can be very expensive and unaffordable on many budgets; some people live off the grid without flush toilets and plumbing; we all know the U.S. healthcare system has its issues; libraries and public education are free but widely variable in quality depending on the local tax base; and the postal service is having trouble keeping up with the times.

Yes, there are haves and have nots, there will always be people with more and those with less (see Desiderata poem), and corruption and inequity exist here, too.  But, overall, damn we are lucky.  It’s not that there aren’t problems or that it’s perfect; but we have a basic standard of living in the U.S. that exceeds the norm in many places.  And that’s something I want to acknowledge and say thank you for.

As I traveled through Guatemala, I was simultaneously reminded about all that I take for granted while being struck by the contrasts that so often exist within a developing country.  There is such beauty and yet such poverty.  It’s a compelling place to visit, but such a challenging place to live.  There are resources available to travelers from afar that people who live in the country couldn’t dream of accessing (due to the vast difference in the value of a dollar against local currencies).

The issues facing disenfranchised communities in the U.S. and abroad are big and overwhelming.  The scope of the problems and the sense of hopelessness can be paralyzing.  I have spent a lot of time on the sidelines wondering how I could possibly help, worrying that my involvement as a “helper” could be counter-productive, and generally so caught up in not knowing which direction to head that I headed nowhere.

Recently, though, I have changed my mindset.  I am choosing gratitude over guilt.  I am choosing to face into problems and be part of the solution, versus doing nothing because it all feels too big or uncomfortable.

So what will I do?  What can we do?  Champion. Invite. Invest.  Find people doing good work and shine the light on them.  In the Quaker faith, they “hold someone in the light” to bring attention to a person’s suffering.  Essentially the concept is to shine a light on hard times.  Hold people and communities up to the light in their time of need.  Bring attention to the issues that matter to you and be an ally to positive change.  Invite others to join you, to see these places and people, to face into the problems and be part of the solution.  And, if you have some money to spare, invest in the good work that is happening and the real changemakers doing it.

Thanksgiving is about inviting everyone to the table for a meal and saying thank you.  It is not always easy, it can be stressful, and it also has a conflicted history.  But the concept is right on.  As I enjoy the bounty of good food and the company of family, I will be conscious of my good fortune, I will be saying thank you, and I will be holding those who are struggling in the light.

Thank you for reading and Happy Thanksgiving!  Gobble gobble.

Gratitude Meme

From Positive Energy +