It’s easy to feel grateful when the day ends with a warm glow— when there’s enough and all’s right with your world. It’s not so easy if you’re feeling frightened, confused, disappointed, overwhelmed, or sad, because what’s there to be grateful for in any of that? This fall we’re navigating so much that’s challenging and it can be hard to catch a break from it. Sometimes before you even realize it you find yourself caught in a downdraft of negativity and the world appears bleak indeed.
I’m so grateful that I was able to work remotely in October and spend time with my mother. She needed support when she first came home from rehab after breaking her hip. There were some rough patches because a broken hip is no picnic, especially when you’re in your mid-80’s and live alone. And yet I was often inspired as I watched her assess each challenge and figure out how she was going to do what she needed to do. She was determined to figure out how to remain in independent living.
It’s not that she didn’t get angry, frustrated, frightened, and discouraged (sometimes she cycled through all that in fifteen minutes). It’s just that as she began to spiral downward she found ways to “hit the brakes.” And then often we would find ourselves laughing, then even playing with the situation as she found ways to regain some little measure of control. (She put a mask on a little pumpkin, then drew eyes and half a nose, and surrounded it with all her pill bottles. We called it “Recover-ween,” which is even more hilarious if you say it like a two-year-old with a Boston accent.) Actually, what she was turning around was her perspective, not through denial, or chemicals, or by blaming anyone else. Instead, even in the midst of what was at times horrible, she focused on the resources she had and what she could do to get to the next place she needed to be.
One of the very best ways I know to turn things around is by spending just a little while every day paying attention to what’s good and giving thanks for it. You can make a short list at the end of your day. Or you can focus your attention as you go about your daily business. You can look for supportive, beautiful, good things as you walk from the parking lot to the grocery store—the high thin clouds in the blue sky, the sound of crows, the wind that blows dust in amazing patterns, the toddler who grins and waves as their mother briskly pushes an overloaded cart down the aisle. When you let these things into your mind and heart they can’t help but lift your spirits.
Whenever I do this I find that there’s a mantra flowing through me, “thank you, thank you, thank you…” And I feel inextricably connected again to the living world. Yes, there are broken, messy, dangerous things. And we can figure out how to face them and deal with them together. What’s negative is temporary, but goodness is always humming somewhere through the background and we can always reconnect to it. By the way, that’s a powerfully liberal religious way to understand the world, and we can connect to it through our gratitude. When we make this connection to the s/Sacred it can inspire our confidence. Confidence—from the Latin con fide—meaning with faith, this is one of the things we mean when we talk about Unitarian Universalist faith.
This gorgeous late November, as the cold northern winds sweep the sky and leave it sparkling blue, as the trees shower the world with gold and copper, as apples and pears offer the world their sweet perfume, I hope your attention and gratitude lead you into all this goodness and help you find your confidence and joy. These are some good ways that we each know that truly we belong to all this; that already we’re part of all that is good.
PS. From a justice perspective, the old stories Americans learned about the first Thanksgiving are problematic because they’re told from only one perspective, that of the English pilgrims. It’s not that there isn’t some goodness or truth in it, it’s just that it’s incomplete. One thing we can do is listen to stories from people whose voices have been silenced in the past.
This video tells a story that arcs from desecration and desolation to inspiring strength and wholeness.
Here’s another perspective on the first Thanksgiving.