The approach of Thanksgiving prompts some much needed reflection on 2020, this the year of the shit show.
So, here are a few thoughts on gratitude:
1. Gratitude is the foundation of presence.
Gratitude requires focus on what you have, not what you’ve lost, are missing, or wish you had, what was or what will be. The sense of loss and longing and loneliness and anxiety that feel so natural to 2020 are only exacerbated in gratitude’s absence. The opposite of gratitude is not being ungrateful, but rather being unrooted.
2. Gratitude is richer when it is more difficult to come by.
Sometimes it’s just hard to feel thankful for anything, but these are the moments when gratitude is most potent. Like most anything, the gratitude you have to work for arrives enriched by the investment. So, taking the time to be reflective, to see yourself and the world, yourself in the world, to explore those around you and those who are no longer, to empathize deeply, frequently to the point of tears of joy or sorrow, to learn something, to share something - this is the work of gratitude. And, its reward is far greater than the effort and far more complete than thoughtless appreciation.
3. Gratitude requires perspective.
For pretty much the duration of the pandemic, I’ve had a bulging disc in my neck. I’ve been in regular and at times near constant pain. I’ve wanted to complain, but, you know what: who gives a shit!? I don’t have Covid. I don’t have cancer. I’m not going to die. My fortune is plentiful. My privilege is grotesque. Gratitude dilutes the need to complain - even, and perhaps especially, if you have to remind yourself. I am grateful for my health - as it is. I am grateful for the health of my family and friends and that I’ve lost no one close to me to Covid.
4. Some days, gratitude is all you have to get you through the day - and, that’s ok.
I lost a friend this summer who I loved dearly, even though I saw her infrequently. Her loss was tragic and painful and her absence has surfaced my deep gratitude not just for her and her life - but for the people and life I lived when we met more than a decade ago. It has spurred deep reflection on the positive impact others have had on my life, hopefully that I’ve had on others, and a deep re-digging into why I am here. While her loss had me feeling lost and untethered, it has in my gratitude for her deeply rooted me.
5. Gratitude is a gift to be exchanged.
It’s important to do things for others, to be a part of other people’s lives, to feel part of a community. This can be helping or being helped, or something as simple as engaging in a random conversation at a coffee shop or even just viewing someone else’s art in a gallery. It’s connection. It’s exchange. Of ideas. Of energy. Giving and receiving. In a time of social isolation, these connections are harder than ever to find. Deliberate effort is required. While gratitude for others is critical for creating meaning in life, feeling the gratitude of others is critical to finding it.
This year has been a shit show, and yet I find myself more grateful than ever. But, I’ve had to work for it. For that, I am grateful.
Losing my leaves
The season of 2020 has been like no other.
I don’t know whether it has been hot or cold, rainy or dry. I don’t know even how long it has lasted or when it will end. A singular, enduring season.
I don’t really remember now, but figure it began with the budding promise of any new season. New year. Life waking, welling up, promising to burst forth.
But then, the winds came. While my bows were not broken, they still express the bend of the wind, the subtle arch that tells you where it came from and where it was going, and showing what it left behind. A bend that says I survived but not without a story to tell, not without a little bit of wear. Forever changed.
And then disease silently struck. I didn’t see anything - I couldn’t - but I knew others were falling. I didn’t see them fall. I didn’t hear them fall. But, they fell, and it changed me.
I am left here - to reach deeper, to understand my ground, to hold what I cannot touch, to feel what I cannot see, to find something new, within. I reach to the wisdom deep in my cells.
I inhale the beauty that remains free, above, encompassing - articulated in stark contrast to the fallen, shadow, below. The sun hits me differently now.
And then the dog days set in. A hyperventilating time when heat consumed oxygen, when my leaves warmed in thirst, starving refreshment, some drying and cracking and falling amidst the intensity, the urgency. They were false suggestions of a changing season. All of me simply could not endure.
Only the season endures intact.
And now, I am losing my leaves. All of them this time. I amidst the others, above and below, wondering how some stand barren while others glow - in reds and yellows and oranges - more alive than ever.
I wonder how they see me. I feel frail. Limbs exposed. Bare.
But, even in 2020, even in the absence of time, the singularity of season, in the futility of place, in the intensity of the unknown, in the reduction of my self outward, expansion inward, I take solace in that deep wisdom I found in my cells:
In this season, I don’t need leaves to be alive. I just need roots.