Thursday, November 24, 2005

What Does It Mean to be Thankful?

A friend once told me the story of a man whom everyone in the village thought was crazy: when someone arrived, he would cry, and when the person left, he would laugh. One day, a villager asked him about his unusual reactions. "When my friends arrive, I think about them leaving, and it makes me sad, so I cry. And when they go, I think about them coming back, and it makes me happy, so I laugh."

I've often repeated this story, especially when taking my leave of friends I rarely get to see. It always felt like a way to remember that we will see each other again, and that it's cause for happiness.

Today, another meaning pops out for me: it's a story all about not being present in the moment.

Today is Thanksgiving, and I have so much to be thankful for: my beloved wife, my kick-ass job and colleagues, my health, my cats, my creative pursuits, my home. I do not take these things for granted -- I know how lucky I am. Yet all morning I was fighting to stave off an overwhelming sadness. I didn't want to cast a pall on the day for Emily, or give vent to any of the snarky thoughts cropping up in my head, so I looked for ways to make the day special. While Emily slept, I poked around online for movies we might take in, and called to find an open coffeeshop where I could pick her up a surprise mocha caramel latte with extra chocolate and whipped cream. But the movies weren't going to work out, and all the cafes were closed. So I tried the "make myself feel pretty" route, with a long shower and special attention to my hair.

Standing under the warm water, though, I just couldn't hold the tears back any more. This is the first Thanksgiving since my mom died -- the anniversary of her death is only weeks away -- and I'm just plain SAD. She has been on my mind for several days now: the special cream sauce she'd make to go on the cauliflower, the plain stuffing that's still my favorite, the ways I see her shape in my own body. It doesn't matter that I hadn't spent a Thanksgiving with her in years, or that our relationship was complicated and often painful. Grief is just as complicated and painful, and unless you let it take up the room it needs, it doesn't fade.

So I finally let myself be present with the reality of the sadness. I stopped trying to put on a happy face, just because my life is going well and the calendar tells me to show some gratitude, dammit. I let the sobs wrack my body and the bath towel absorb my tears.

And once I did, the grief moved through me and the storm passed, more quickly than I'd ever have expected. In its wake, I could concentrate again on all that I am so grateful for -- not the least of which is the simple reality of being alive in this moment.


Blogger Stephen said...

I randomly found this post in my search for a meaning of thankful.

You story answered my question.

I hope you and your family are doing well.

7:09 AM  

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