The Humbling Complexity of Gratitude

I’m on Facebook right now and someone has posted the video of Jimmy Fallon and Adele.  She is singing her new single, “Hello.”   Fallon and his show’s band members are playing instruments commonly found in an elementary school classroom.

It’s this weird jumble of sound.  This woman with an incredibly rich, deep voice singing about regret.  And the background harmony is comprised with kazoos, simple drums, a rainbow-colored glockenspiel.  Everyone’s faces is mischievous.  They are loving this little inside-joke.

And yet, I still feel this powerful complexity.  This duality.  This sense of two things that are on opposing sides of an emotional spectrum pulling at me.

Today is Thanksgiving.  And everyone is posting about something or someone for which/whom they are thankful.

And I’m thankful.  Don’t get me wrong.

I have an incredibly rich and peaceful life.

I have a fantastic family.  And I don’t just mean the husband and two kids.  I mean my parents.  My brother and his family.  My in-laws (all of them).  My aunts and uncles.  My aunts and uncles-in-laws.  I can keep on pulling out their names like I was pulling out random cards from a deck and try and show, sincerely, that I’m thankful.

I’m thankful for every breath that I take.  Even when I’ve had a bad day (sort of had one on Tuesday), I am thankful that I am alive and able to live within this rich tapestry that creates the nuances of my existence.

I am thankful for my colleagues.  All of them.  Because no matter what happens, I have learned from each person, have been given a tiny element that has become part of the Gracelesscurran periodic table of elements.  Compassion would be Co.  Love would be Lv.  Thankfulness would be Tk.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could square and cube those elements?  Give them away in a neatly-wrapped gift box.  Or, in my case, poorly wrapped but well intentioned gift box.

Having a bad day?  Well, let me talk with you about what is wrong and then I’ll share some joy with you.  It’s bite-sized and won’t add to your hips, tummy, or butt.  

My children are currently with my mother-in-law.  I’m enjoying a few hours of peace, quiet, and alone time.  And the best thing to do with those precious hours is a whole lot of silliness.  Like watching silly videos on Facebook.

Or writing in my blog about those silly videos.

But I keep hearing the plaintive rumbling within Adele’s voice and how it is complemented by tones that remind me of the opening song for Sesame Street, one of the only places on Earth that can never be destroyed by hatred, racism, or terrorism.  I hear sadness with happiness layered on top.  I hear grief with healing.

I love Thanksgiving.  I don’t care about Thanksgiving.  I love the fact that I have a day off today.  And a day off yesterday.  And a day off tomorrow.

I am generally ambivalent about the meaning of the day.  And maybe it’s because I’ve never really thought about gratitude which is kind of weird because this is the type of holiday that would have my name all over it.

Maybe it’s because this holiday is squashed between Halloween and Christmas, two major kid holidays that require lots of planning (hey, I had to plan out the candy to give out, the escort for the Girl, the entertainment for the Boy, and how to keep the dog from scaring everyone away) and work for me.

Maybe it’s because I was always taught about the Pilgrims being thankful and then being taught that maybe the Pilgrims were not all that nice to other people.  It’s hard to think of the Pilgrims as being nice to the Native American neighbors when I have read the journals of William Bradford and his celebrating a massacre of a Native American village, calling the smell of burning flesh a sweet sacrifice to the Lord.

Yeah, that’s not a fun image to invoke on Thanksgiving.  Sorry for being a bummer.

But, in all reality, I am powerfully thankful.  And I’m powerfully grateful for what I have and what has been given to me.  And when I think about what my life could become or could have been if I had been born in a different hemisphere, then I am even more grateful.

For example, I don’t have to flee my home country because of terrorism or an invading group of religious fanatics who have forgotten or ignored the real meaning behind their religion and want to exercise their self-imbued sense of power and self-righteousness.

For example, I don’t live in a city that has recently experienced such horrible acts of terrorism that parts of it are in shut down or have recently been in shut down.

Nor do I live in a  country that has just lifted its emergency procedures only to have an act of terrorism happen immediately after and the process is now being repeated.  More emergency protocol.  Emergency closures.  Emergency curfews.

A suspension of life.

What do I have?

A stable job.

A fantastic group of students.

An incredible family.

A loving, devoted husband.

A safe environment.

Good schools for my children.

Amazing friends.

Great colleagues.

A fantastic principal.

Two great pets.

A lovely mountain that calls my name.

A sense of purpose.

A drive for life.

Heat that is not created by a fire nor has to be maintained by my labor.

Indoor plumbing that can be temperature controlled.

A flushing toilet.

Hygiene products that are easily replaceable.

Clothing that halfway fits and can also be replaced with ease.

A consistent paycheck.

Choice.

Freedom.

The ability to life without real fear.

The ability to express myself without retribution.

Courage.

Warm slippers.

Fuzzy pajamas.

Laughter.

The ability to travel without restrictions.

Music that inspires me.

People who inspire me.

The ability to look up into the skies and see stars and the moon at night and not have to worry about mortar attacks.

A lot of times, I find my sense of gratitude to be a bit…oh.  I don’t know how to describe it.  But it’s hard because, at times, in order to be grateful, I have to look at what I have in comparison to what I don’t have.  As in, I compare myself to those who have much more difficult lives than myself.

And then the gratitude becomes a sense of humble sadness.  I have no reason to be unhappy when I have so many reasons to be happy.  I don’t know what it means to hook my fingers around a barbed wire fence and see my freedom only inches away but know that I might not ever see it.

I don’t know what it means to starve.

Or be scared because of my gender

Or my race

Or my religious beliefs.

 

I’m grateful that I have the ability to reflect on my life and see the precious experiences that have given me a rich life, a beautiful collection of stained glass pieces that form into a mosaic that I proudly call myself.

I am thankful.  I am so very thankful for everything.  I guess I just needed to take a moment and stop, look around, and remember.

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