Thanksgiving can be a challenge for many reasons (not least of which the fact that the story many of us are told about the holiday — that it’s to honor the native peoples of the Americas, who kept the pilgrims/first colonizers from starving to death after settling here — wildly sanitizes and white-washes the true history of European peoples on this continent).
We are told this is a day to be with family– the message is everywhere around us, on television, on social media. But what happens when time with family is toxic for us, or harmful, or just leaves us feeling depressed and sad?
We are reminded regularly, whether we want to be or not, that we should be grateful. We should keep gratitude journals, keep a gratitude practice, that gratitude will help us heal. There are times when that sort of practice works for us. But there are also days when we don’t feel grateful at all — when we just feel grief and loss, and then we feel worse about ourselves because we’re not being grateful, and therefore we are inhibiting our own healing somehow.
In my experience, gratitude can be a generosity we offer ourselves and others, but not so much when it feels forced or demanded.
So I just want to invite you to be easy with yourself today (the same as every day). My hope is that you’re with the sort of family — chosen or blood — that brings you joy, allows you to feel a kind of comfort in your skin. If you are spending this day alone, may it be time that rejuvenates and brings you peace. If you are working, know that many are grateful for your labor, whether they say it to you or not.
I am grateful that you are here in this world, that you are making it through, that you share your story with your notebook and maybe with your community, too. I am grateful for dogs and music and poetry today. I am grateful that my sister and I made it through, and continue making it through every time we get together and keep rebuilding a relationship that got so profoundly damaged.
Gratitude is never simple or easy, I think, and that’s one of the reasons I appreciate the WS Merwin poem, “Thanks,” that I share with my workshops every year (and have pasted down below). I am never sure whether this is a hopeful or despairing poem, and maybe it’s both. I dunno — reading it always leaves me with a feeling of humanness, I guess: ridiculous, flawed, reaching, aching. We go on saying thank you even when things are so painful and we have suffered so much, not because we’re stupid or because we’re mindless, but because we are alive and in the struggle of living and loving.
W. S. Merwin
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you
with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is
(From Migration: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2005). )
One more time — be easy with you today, ok? And if you find some time for some words today, so much the better. Thanks for all the magnificent ways you are you, and for all the ways (visible and invisible) that you appreciate and honor those around you, today and every day.