Friday, November 26, 2010


Giving thanks and practicing active gratitude

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone but gratitude lingers alongside the delicious leftovers. Ryan and I hosted a big family meal at our house for the first time in recorded history, and I am relieved to say that all went off without a hitch. Nothing burned, everyone ate well, plates were full of old favorites as well as the results of some recipes I'd bravely tried for the very first time. Between turkey and pie we took turns talking about what we were thankful for in our lives, from soup to nuts and small to large. Life transitions navigated, disasters averted, successes applauded.

We set the table with a hodgepodge of family heirlooms and antiques shop finds. The vintage set of china I put on layaway during a low point in life, a particularly dreary time when I yearned for something fine. My grandmother's spoons, my great-grandmother's battered table knives, my other grandmother's footed silver dish. The table linens my sister gave us for a wedding present. The big table from the kitchen in my childhood home. I walked around outside in the morning and gathered up a bouquet of gratitude - a few late wild rose hips, some dry everlasting, the still-green sage from the herb bed - for a prickly fall centerpiece for the table.

In the late afternoon as everyone drove off into the dusk, I picked over the turkey in the kitchen and thought a lot about gratitude. I would say at this point in life that my spiritual/religious practice is what I have come to regard as active gratitude. Being aware of and grateful for what is. Being actively thankful. This can be practiced anywhere, at any time, is remarkably calming in the face of what comes, and helps me with those thorny issues of forgiveness, letting go, and acceptance, which seem to show up like obnoxious drunk uncles (not that I have any of those...) during the holidays. Thanksgiving just feels like a natural time to speak your gratitude aloud, with as many of the people you are grateful for as will fit around your table. It was good to do just that yesterday, and I hope the same for you.

Monday, November 01, 2010


that November feeling

November. One of those times of year, at least in New England, that serves to remind us of all the things we still haven't done in life, things that we really really really want to do. Illustrate a cookbook. Rewrite that memoir about books and reading. Start a new series of paintings. Find some decent curtains for the bedroom, because frankly the ones that are up there now have got to go. Save the world. November reminds us of stuff like this, even as she drains us of ambition, with waning bleak light and thin cold wind. Ambition to even move. Now, I myself am the kind of person who, if I haven't accomplished something tangible by the end of a day or a week, can get a little... down on myself, let's say. The work ethic I am dubious heir to means I can be unkind to myself and others if I feel I haven't produced in some way. And bullies of any sort appall me, in my own self and elsewhere. So what to do? Nothing. Sit with it, that November feeling. Consider it a great time to deprogram oneself, to allow oneself to simply be.

I'll let you know how all that goes. Because of course I could just need lots of extra Vitamin D. And a few more Democrats in office. Poetry might help, too.

One of my favorite hopeful thoughts about this time of year, the first line from the poem A Man in Blue, by James Schuyler:

"Under the French horns of a November afternoon..."

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