Giving Thanks. It’s a wonderful thing this time of year to focus on gratitude. Sometimes, though, this feels difficult. Holidays can be a struggle for many who may be missing loved ones who have died or feeling the sharp edges of estrangement. Disappointments emerge in high relief against the foil of bright lights and music: an unexpected layoff, the squeeze of inflation, crowds on the streets, things that are not as expected, or went a different way than we’d hoped.
It’s perfectly normal to feel this, to experience these things. And yet there is an opportunity to move through the sadness and the discouragement to another place, too.
Gratitude as a practice will over time become a mindset, as the practice trains the brain in meaningful ways. (more on this over the next few weeks)
The Thanksgiving of 2004 I spent in a little log cabin in central Alaska with my husband (we were just dating then), my dad and stepmom. The following summer they were killed in an accident (I tell this story in North of Hope). I remember this time we had every year, and I mourn the loss of an opportunity to share this time with them again, or for my children ever to have the opportunity. There are so many special memories of that weekend — cooking, yoga, conversation, snowshoeing. And so I choose to focus on the gratitude of that time, even as the loss will never be fully gone.
I remember researching traditions around death after my father and stepmother died, and I was struck by Leon Weseltier’s tome titled simply Kaddish which he wrote after his own father died. Reading about this tradition of mourners saying a prayer in synagogue every day for a year after their loved one dies (this was his role as the most senior male descendent). What was this mourners prayer, I wondered? Could I adopt it? Could it help me, too?
It turns out that the Kaddish prayer is not specific to mourners— but there is a time in the service where mourners specifically stand to recite it. It is a prayer of praise to God. In the wake of sadness, the prayer that is required of Jewish mourners is a prayer of praise.
What greater indication of the incredible power of gratitude, that the difficult practice is, in the midst of the deepest darkness and despair, the crushing aftermath of loss, to give thanks, to praise?
What does this do? It reaffirms, daily, our place as part of a community (the tradition that’s required). It tells us that there is a God that is bigger than we are (removing the requirement to solve everything). It teaches us to give thanks despite the most difficult times we can experience— and by having a place where mourners must stand to recite it, the traction acknowledges the deep loss of members of their community, and says: we are your people and we will support you, and your work is to find your way back to the light, and you do this through praise.
What a beautiful thing that is, how difficult and yet soul healing and heart opening.
And so: if you are experiencing loss this Thanksgiving, give thanks. Find ways to give thanks. For the sun that broke through the clouds this morning. For the smell of wet leaves. For early snow on ski trails. For the cat that rubs up against your leg a you sit reading. For fresh air. For the way the child on the street looked at you and smiled.
And if you are blessed with abundance— a full table, a crowd of family and friends, a warm fire— perhaps think of a way you might share this with others, as food security continues to decline globally. (Our son recently ran a campaign to support World Central Kitchen, and we continue to support. Will you join us?).
More on the physical and psychological changes that happen when you make grate a practice— how it quite literally changes your mind and your body — to come.
A practice for your Thanksgiving weekend (perhaps you can carry it forward):
Sit down each day for five minutes and write about things that you are grateful for. Describe why you are grateful for these things in detail.
And no matter where and how you are celebrating Thanksgiving, here’s a download from presentation guru Nancy Duarte of a Thanksgiving placemat: printed on a festive colored card stock, perhaps it can be a guide for conversation that will help reprogram sadness into gratitude.
Sending light to you and yours this Thanksgiving season,
The holiday season is upon us! If you want to give a gift that will bring joy and meaning— and reduce conspicuous consumption, I have the answer:
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Take a look at my Bookshop Storefront for recommendations for all your favorite readers!