Nothing encapsulates the meaning of Thanksgiving more than this Buddhist proverb. When we realize gratitude isn’t turkey or a holiday but a way of being, we are already blessed.
Not every Thanksgiving finds us spilling over with gratitude. Times of loss, of grief, of illness all color our gratitude scale. At times, we might even feel as carved out as the bird on the table, yet there are always blessings to be found, often in abundance. And that gratitude is what we share with others.
It’s easy to be thankful when life goes our way but when bad things happen, it’s a lot tougher to see the silver lining. When we look around or even back, we find moments of peace, joy, laughter and love. Sometimes, pictures help jog our memory so I thought I’d use a few to express some pictorial gratitude of my own this Thanksgiving.
Quarantine. Climate. Political insanity. A short commercial break with a cup of tea may not be the craziest idea.
Starbucks diva. Yeah, no. I’m not the cool chick who nonchalantly orders a Double Mocha Grande, extra whipMacchiato. (Is that a thing?) You can tell I’m not a coffee maven. Though the heady aroma of a steaming cuppa-joe will always be enticing, my belly says otherwise. To this queenager, tea has never been coffee’s poor relation but a pretty badass elixer.
For as long as I can remember, tea has been my drink of choice. Though I ditched cream and sugar a long time ago, I grew up watching my parents sweeten their cups of tea with mounds of the stuff. Through the years, tea has been my go-to with friends, family and anyone who needs a little somethin-somethin. Steeped in aromatic little gossamer bags, tea has absorbed too many stories, laughter and tears to count. It’s been background music through years of kid playdates, grief shared and friend connection. Steaming cups of tea have held secrets, belly laughs, copious tears and advice, both given and taken, making apt the term, Tea and Sympathy.
You can’t buy happiness but you can buy tea — and that’s sort of the samething.
My life is steeped in tea. It begins my day, and accompanies me throughout its hours. Tea is a grounding, a connection to nature, the proverbial cup of life. Herbal is my thing, though I admit the decadent Chai Latte, a tea equivalent of a venti caramel frappucino with a double shot of espresso, is my guilty pleasure. Sometimes ya just gotta go with it.
A timely repost of this blog since, itproves once again, that truth is stranger than fiction and that patriarchal politics is working overtime. Enacting policies meant to rob women of their autonomy, we are on the road to making yesterday’s misogynistic vision of dystopian ‘great again’.
Jazzy red cloak. Wacky white bonnet. The perfect outfit for women in jeopardy. As political climate in the realm of reproductive heats up — again, The Handmaids Tale is becoming a little too close for comfort. Margaret Atwood’s book was dystopian fiction; real life is often much, much stranger. Inspired by the sociopolitical issues of 1970 and ’80s America, as well as a little-known a 17th century woman, I’m sure Atwood never imagined it could become a playbook for current events. But for years, politically and religiously radical movements have been brewing a perfect storm.
The surreal fiction of The Handmaids Tale depicted women in reproductive slavery. They were forced to bear the children of the elite, where their scarlet cloaks and crisp bonnets underlined their subservience. Most of the unlucky women had become infertile due to environmental toxins (yikes) except for a very few, like the iconic protagonist, Offred.
Atwood wrote that “the heavy-handed theocracy of 17th century Puritan New England, with its marked bias against women, would need only a period of social chaos to reassert itself”. Chilling? Well, grab your sweater because politics has woven its way to the bedroom once again. Legislating women’s innate rights has become less rhetoric and more budding, backwards policy. Its sanctimonious fervor has gotten teeth and bitten into state rulings, deciding, by male jury, what is best for women’s bodies.
Newsflash. Getting pregnant is generally not a solo activity. Even if you hail from Gilead, it still takes two. Perhaps men need to be reminded, before they rule on what a woman can do with her own body, how procreation works in the first place. Unfortunately, like in Gilead, women are considered responsible for whatever happens to them and men are free – to judge.
“Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance; you have to work at it.” The Handmaid’s Tale
Another day; another mass shooting. This week, San Jose was the site where a resentful, ex-employee opened fire on his coworkers, something that’s become far too common in our country. It illustrated, once again, that we never know what hides beneath the surface of anyone. We rarely notice the anger, depression, resentment, embedded racism or religious bias behind a neighborhood teen’s grin or that ‘harmless’ crank’s frown. And we seldom can predict what eventually propels a person to grab a gun and take target practice on unsuspecting other humans — until it’s too late.
You just don’t know.
From El Paso to Dayton, Newtown to Orlando, mass shootings are part of the American gun culture. In 2020 alone, 611 mass shooting events occurred in a year when a pandemic was raging. They say the flip side of anger is fear and COVID-19 certainly was a year for that. Even so, it’s hard to imagine such calculated, heinous acts of violence incited bye the scared and afraid. Yet, terrorists are definitely frightened, just not in the way you think. You see, for them the bogeyman is not something that goes bump in the night but fear of poverty, of being passed over or being unseen or unloved. It’s also the ‘tired, hungry, and poor’ bogeymen that giant green lady in the NY harbor welcomes — the ‘other’. And, because not everyone who is prejudiced, scared or feeling helpless becomes a mass shooter, mental illness if often the root cause. After all, no one who purposefully commits mass murder is in their ‘right mind’.
I’m often afraid, too, and I know I’m not alone. I’m afraid, not of immigrants but of ‘shadow’ Americans, of homies who are religious fanatics and sycophant politicians, who’ve rained hateful diatribes like confetti grenades. I’m afraid of walking into a Dairy Queen or a shopping mall to see cocky, right-to-carry assault rifles worn ‘just because’ . Or people claiming to be patriots, ‘good guys with guns’, who wave the flag with one hand, just ready to be triggered. That scares me.
I have grandsons – 5 of them. I know all about the sometimes crazy video games (though my kids keep tight rein on what the nuggets can play). But to blame mass shootings on those games is both absurd and short-sighted. When I was a kid, my brothers played with cap guns and toy rifles, pretending to be soldiers, cops or bad guys. To my knowledge, my remaining brother never grew an interest in shooting up a theater.
Some anniversaries aren’t meant to celebrate but to remember and learn from — while you make plans to move on. This is one of them.
Two months ago we marked one entire year since our world stood still. Unfortunately, a global pandemic doesn’t call for anniversary champagne toasts. One year in, and we still have few reasons to celebrate this milestone although, from the looks of it, spring didn’t get the memo. It still sprung, right on schedule. The season, however, is a whole lot more than April showers and May flowers. At its core, spring symbolizes an escape from despair and dark times, and that pretty much defines this past year, no? Despite the heavy, colorless winter past, confused crocuses, and daffodils still stubbornly refuse to give up. Uh, little dudes, did you see the weather?
“Despite the forecast, live like it’s spring”. Lily Pulitzer
Living like it’s spring can be a tough directive, especially in times of loss and quarantine. This past year qualifies as the poster child for lost jobs, livelihoods, and people we loved. Sneeze-inciting ragweed may be in bloom but the pandemic elephant still reminds us daily that the deadly virus continues to infect and kill. Confusion reigns about what we can or can’t do once fully vaccinated and social distance is still the norm. Even so, spring proves we have the strength and heart to bloom again, even if we have to push through frozen ground to get there. And one thing is for sure. Life, like every season, inevitably goes on even if it might not be the same on the return trip. Neither will we.
Nothing is more intrinsic to nature and humanity than change. From hurricanes and earthquakes to fires and epidemics, nature can transform our world in a nanosecond. We can try to control it but, like a pandemic, it tells us who’s boss. The virus will eventually lessen its stranglehold. Life will slowly return, but not to ‘normal’ — and that may not be a bad thing. We are so due for a major reset. The wealthiest 5% remain at the head of the line, while the rest struggle exponentially from job loss, and financial difficulties. Some will still have no healthcare, live from paycheck to paycheck, often in abject poverty. In a country divided by affluence and the lack of it, political party, race and gender, this pandemic has been definitive proof that illness does not discriminate. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
“You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep spring from coming”. Pablo Naruda
As life begins its baby-step return, we see defaults as clearly as we see change. Time is inhabited by both good and painful memories, love and loss, joy and tears. Happy times are no less happy when they are joined by sad. Like the lion and lamb of life’s seasons, they inhabit the same space. And, while they are polar opposites, they are part of the same equation. That’s life’s eternal dichotomy. No one complains when the pendulum swings the fun way, but when our little world teeters on its axis and hands us things that suck, whoa! Yet, life is exactly that; a conundrum of all things good and bad. It’s up to us to find the aha moments.
” ‘If only’ must be the two saddest words in the world.” Mercedes Lockey
When I hear people say ‘I have no regrets’, my first thought is “I’ll have what they’re having”. Living a life that gathers no regrets is something we all want, but as years, events, experiences pile up, it’s harder to to come by — at least with a straight face. The truth is, we each have our own vision of how we wanted our lives to be and how they actually unfolded. As years add up, so do regrets. Whether they are productive or unhealthy often is not the point. Yet, they still have a way of elbowing into your consciousness, invited or not. They become like an accusatory Jack-in the Box, gleefully popping up with a laundry list of things you did or didn’t do and once it starts, it’s hard to shut up.
One of the biggest regrets of life, I think is a sense of having gone on the trip, but missed the adventure. Gary Haugen
The complicated, worrisome year we’ve all lived through is cause enough for mental review. More than ever, we realized just how precious life is — and how short. The obvious fragility of life was a newsreel re-run over and over through months of a pandemic. I suspect many of us, seeing very real mortality all around us, were treated to inadvertent flashbacks of our lives, enabling regrets to saddle up for rando visits. I’m that kid who, instead of pressing ESC, say ‘hold my beer’ (as if I actually drank), and settle in for masochistic doomscrolling of all my failures.
Recently, I was treated to an insomniac night of life review on an endless loop. I saw a 19 year old girl supporting a husband through college instead of fighting for art school, obviously not the smartest decision I ever made on many levels. As years spin by, I saw relationships I should have run from with my hair on fire, or left long before their expiration date. I’m a slow learner. I was starkly reminded of how parents’ threats of distancing and disapproval shaped my life as well as any confidence or idea of myself long into adulthood. I saw all the chances I didn’t take, in living color. All the places I never saw, risks I never took and the chicken-little fear that controlled it all.
Living in regret will become your biggest regret. Bill Johnson
How many times in our lives has something happened to stop us in our tracks? How often does a sudden illness, death of someone we love or loss of a job or home, kneecap us at the most basic level? Those events often put the brakes on our ideas of what the future should be – or if it even can be. That’s where the comma comes in.
Events come along in everyone’s life, both good and bad, that feel monumental. We fall in love, get the perfect job, get married, lose loved ones, get promoted, get divorced, have kids, move to a new home, get fired… the list goes on and on. These occasions can seem like mistakes or miracles, but no matter how they are received, they make us pause and consider.
“Life is a series of commas, not periods.” Matthew McConaughey
Experiences are all personal. What feels huge to us, may be business as usual for someone else. What might drop us like a rock, can be just a blip in the life of another. Depending on the circumstance, the event can feel like an ending, a bleak finality or a turning point where we are forced to move in another direction. We are either stuck, feeling that things will forever exist in this new context or find challenge to look outward, hopefully to find a new meaning to the story. If I have a choice between period and comma, I choose a comma.
Life is about change. It’s fluid, unpredictable and sometimes, even batshit crazy. Like a basket of fruit, even the best of times can turn but, conversely, bad stuff will usually get better. Okay, it may not get better the way we chose when we put in our order. But, as I told my kids when they were little, if Santa doesn’t get you what was on your list, he probably knew of something even better. If you’ve lived through wish lists spawned by Sears Christmas Toy catalogs, you know exactly what I mean.
“There comes a time when you have to choose between turning the page — and closing the book” Josh Jameson
2020 was one hell of a year. But, if you’re waiting for a sparkly new one to start, well, you might have to wait awhile.
An unrelenting pandemic. Shocking violence in the US Capitol. Devastating forest fires. Desert locusts. Murder hornets and the craziest, scariest year of politics anyone has ever witnessed. No wonder we’re jonesing for whatever will stop our brains from melting, even better something to ground our souls. It doesn’t seem to matter what the calendar says. From everything we see and read, 2021 looks a lot like the same stuff, different day.
With COVID-19 still raging across the nation, especially after holidays where masks and mandates were often ignored, the virus isn’t even close to being controlled. The early days of 2021 make clear the real loss of jobs, businesses and savings, as well as the scope of food insecurity in our land of plenty. In the face of all the grief, loss and disillusionment, we badly need to find the flip side – and hope it’s a whole lot better.
“The world is on a bumpy journey to a new destination – and a new normal.” Mohamed El-Erian
In a country where a pandemic is still a runaway train, every day is a challenge. Vaccines are here, but hardly everywhere. Oh, sure they’re rolling out but more like a stagecoach than an Acela. In fact, even after you get the mighty jab, you’ll still need distance, masks and hygiene to complete the COVID puzzle. To people who have hissy fits over mask wearing, get the heck over it – now. We all want our lives back. But, living ‘normal-ish’ again will take a lot longer if we continue to set virus forest fires by still living large instead of adhering to pandemic mandates. It’s more than time we understand the simple fact that what hurts one, hurts all. If we don’t, a spanking new, COVID free year will be a long time coming.
So, what do we do in the meantime? When everything seems bleak, even the smallest positivity seems a heavy lift. It’s weird to feel torn between yearning for family hug marathons and being Pollyanna-resigned to the nest of my house but, there you go. What would a positive reset look like? And what could we do to help it along? We could start with thinking out of the box —and outside of ourselves. Nengajo might be a cool first step. Say what? Cousin to our Christmas cards, this nifty Japanese thank-you custom is a nice way to show gratitude. Sent to friends and family at the beginning of a new year, these colorful notes express our appreciation for all they’ve done to look out for us with kindness or help during the shitshow year we just put to bed.
“What the new year brings to you may depend a great deal on what you bring to the new year.” Vern McClellan
As years go, you know you sucked, right? Unfortunately, 2020, you also left a lot of leftover road, so I suspect you won’t be in the rear view mirror any time soon.
I doubt that there’s anyone who isn’t damn happy to wave the past year goodbye. We don’t need to doomscroll to remember just how awful it actually was. Yet, looking back in history, as years go, 2020 wasn’t even the worst — and COVID-19 isn’t the first pandemic to sweep the globe. It’s just the newest. This world has survived the Black Death, Spanish Flu, world wars and, as we step lightly into 2021, new strains of the virus are finding their way to unsuspecting victims. Yes, the vaccine troops have arrived to wage medicinal war on the pandemic, but it’s far from V-Day for the Virus, so the jury will be out for awhile on 2021.
“A new chapter. A new verse. Or the same old story? Ultimately, we write it. The choice is ours.” Alex Morritt
Now, I certainly didn’t mean to puncture the New Year bubble; just take it down a peg. If we open the door to nuovo anno with our eyes wide open, we are more likely to accept what comes without sticker shock, then recalibrate expectations. 2020 forced us to tweak our lives and ways of thinking in a dizzying kaleidoscope of ways, many of which will make us better, and more resilient, pandemic or not. Travel, work, holidays, even the most mundane of things, turned life on its head, forcing us to sink or swim. Most of us who could – swam. We took a good look at our priorities, and realized, unsurprisingly, that the lack of concerts and in-theater movies were a whole lot less important than giant hugs from our loved ones. We adjusted Zoom screens for work at home, and discovered hobbies we never knew we had a yen for. Who knew homemade sourdough bread would be a ‘thing’? A self-identified extrovert, even I discovered I was way more than okay with being quietly nested. I mean, who knew?
Nothing raises anxiety levels more than a worldwide pandemic that’s deadly enough to kill more than 350,000 people. New cases, new deaths every day brought depression, paranoia, grief, and exhaustion. And each of us reacted in different ways. Some of us rebelled, defied or ignored what was clearly happening all around us or we went with the flow, armed with a good dose of inner strength and outer compassion. We reverted to unhappy factory default settings, becoming the whiny, irritable, poor-me worst in the toolbox. Yet some, even in just as tough situations, strove every day toward positivity, generosity and optimism. Some suffered from depression, homelessness and hunger while too many struggled just to survive the virus, grief, loss of jobs and income. Though traumatic situations are never invited, when they crudely insinuate themselves into our lives we still can choose how to meet them.
“Year’s end is neither the end nor the beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience instills in us” Hal Borland
. . . and every day. When you have a seriously elfed up year, that’s pretty much how you roll.
There’s no way to candy cane sugarcoat this. If you were hoping for a ‘ho ho ho’ holiday, you’ll have to wait a year. Though hopefully we each found our share of happy moments, the year itself was an epic suck. Of course, we’ve all had a few-less than merry Christmases. In fact, many have seen some pretty tough entire years. But this one was definitely uncharted territory full of mask mandates, scary death tolls and toilet paper wars. One thing is sure, the year was certainly one for the books — and the holidays are its last chapter.
Will this be the year that creepily cheerful Elf-on-the-Shelf goes on strike? Who could blame him if he did? No matter how the halls are decked with sanitizer, the double-jointed imp might take a pass, leaving tired parents to explain why the obsequious little tattletale never showed. Then again, they might be a tad relieved that the little sucker decided to snooze the season out. Traditions die hard but, but given the year, if a sprite does show, I suspect it will be Chuckie.
No one ever promised a holly, jolly sugarplum world. Even the most glittering of holiday trees hide their share of crawly things among the branches — just to keep you on your toes. Somewhere, along life’s highway, Christmas carols hit a sour note, and our innocent beliefs in magical reindeers and sleighs go the way of childhood. This year, though, you have a hall pass from DIY’ing the perfect holiday. It’s just not that kind of year.
“There’ll be no more sorrow, no grief and pain and I’ll be happy Christmas once again” The Eagles
I have a pretty good idea about holidays that somehow aren’t all that. When my husband died a few years ago, two months before Christmas, it topped my list of terrible, no good, very bad times. This year, thanks to COVID-19, many will suffer their own heartbreaking holiday. To those who lost loved ones, every year thereafter will be Christmas 2.0. There’s no way to sidestep life-changing grief; no magic wand to erase a pandemic. But, I suspect those grieving loss this year from that pandemic would be the first to say, give every precaution your best shot. Giving up a holiday group hug for one year, skipping the major feast and trading in mistletoe for a mask, don’t seem like the biggest ask. Compared with a deadly viral alternative, missing one Norman Rockwell holiday seems like a piece of cake. Okay, maybe not fruitcake because that’s too easy, but you get the message.