Posted in A Day In The Life, mindfulness

Thanks be to… ?

Once upon a time I prayed every day to thank Jehovah for everything I had. Today is Thanksgiving 2020, a year of incredible difficulty for every single person I know, and also the 400th anniversary of Plymouth Rock, and therefore a time to think about the narrative we’ve been told about Thanksgiving, gratitude, and the Native Americans.

Once, a few years ago, shortly after Anthony died, I told mom I was thankful for … something, I don’t even remember what it was. She asked me, who was I grateful to? I’m not sure what prompted this question. She almost never asks me about my beliefs or my spiritual life or much of anything else.

At any rate, on this particular occasion she did. I stumbled around the unexpected question and said, “God,” and though that is not a lie, there’s so much more to my answer than that. So I want to revisit this question this Thanksgiving and talk about God and Gratitude. 

Every day in my journal I write three things I’m grateful for. This might even have been what mom was asking about, because I’ve recommended a gratitude practice for both her and dad, and once, to my surprise, she told me she took our advice and that it went well. Even when I don’t have time for my full journaling practice, which is rare, I try to at least include gratitude. 

Today, on this Thanksgiving, I wrote that I am grateful that I practice giving thanks every day. When I was a Jehovah’s Witness we did not technically celebrate Thanksgiving and our reasoning was that, “we give thanks every day.” But I do not think that I can say I practiced gratitude then. It was more a matter of, “you are required to pray, and this is how you pray: thanks for our food and our family and (fill in the blank and sometimes get creative) and all the things you give us. We ask that you bless (fill in the blank and sometimes get creative). In Jesus’ name, Amen.” You thank, you ask, amen. It was a plug and play recipe. 

The gratitude I practice now is different. When you begin this practice, you name all the same things you would if you were sitting around the Thanksgiving table doing the ritual of naming what you are grateful for: food, family, shelter, love, friends, health, abundance. But when the ritual is daily, you can’t keep naming those seven things, so you start to get creative. You name the spiderweb glistening in the slanting morning sunlight. The quiet you’ve been waiting for for a week. Puppy dog eyes. Children’s laughter. The smell of baking bread. The peaceful ring of wind chimes. Having transportation. Being able to work from home. The excellent tea latte you’re drinking this morning. Hugs, for which you have always been grateful but which are so much more meaningful in this year of hug deficiency. A true practice of gratitude makes you notice more things for which to be grateful, and therefore, in my opinion, is the secret to happiness. The happiness is in the noticing. 

That does leave the question of “to whom”, though, and for those of us who are religious we often don’t get past God. But here is my answer: I am thankful for the humans who work so that society functions, in so many ways, most of whom I will never meet, and especially this year I am thinking of people who are deemed “essential” but who at the same time we are more or less throwing to the wolves in putting them on the front lines without mask mandates, at least in my state. I am grateful to those people who fill all those functions. The grocery store clerk, the butcher, the mail lady who brings so much extra stuff this year, the farmer, the veterinarian, the workers in far-off lands who make the products that make my life possible and better. I thank Russ, who works hard for our family and for the people he serves. I thank the Earth for her bounty and for so many of those little things that I notice every day that make me happy and get written in my journal. I thank mom and dad for giving me life and raising me well. I thank my family at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Cookeville for believing in me and giving me a chance to serve. I thank all my ancestors. I thank my in-laws for adopting me and being my family in ways my family can’t, especially on holidays, but also in everyday ways, all year. I thank the sun and the rain and the rich soil. And yes, I thank the Divine that is in all of these things. 

I know that many of us are missing normal so much right now. May this Thanksgiving be a true time of giving thanks, of finding your center by remembering what is, even now, so very good about life. May you give thanks for the loved ones you are missing. May we all be blessed with better days ahead. 

Amen.

Posted in A Day In The Life

Fragile

These homes look rough, but they are still standing, and that’s more than you can say for some that are not far away.

I just got home from my son’s apartment. He called me at 3 am last night, asked if I was okay. Yeah, what’s up? There’s a tornado, he said. Oh, yeah, fine, I slept through it I guess (we barely got anything in Sparta). It took me a few groggy minutes to ask if he was okay. He said, “Yeah, I’m okay, but it blew the windows out of my apartment and tore the roof off the apartments behind me.” What?!

We took him some battery powered lights and a battery to power his electronics, checked on him. The closer we got the more anxious I was to get to him; full mama bear mode. Russ drove, looking for somewhere to park. I finally said, just let me out, I’ll walk to him. That’s ultimately what I did, through wreckage strewn all over in ridiculous ways. Tornadoes make no sense, there is no logic to them, the embodiment of chaos.

And there he was, on his balcony. It was like something out of a movie, seeing him across a distance full of shattered remains, relief washing over me even though I’d known he was okay. I went to him. He’s fine. Thank God he’s fine.

Bran’s building

In the photo, the back of his building, you can see the tarps flapping in the wind, covering the destroyed parts of the roof over every unit in his complex except his. Every other apartment has windows blown out; in each of his windows only one of the double panes was shattered; other tenants had water pouring in shattered windows or shorn roofs. The man next door said the sky was green, and the massive electric lines were down right next to the building. If your power was out, it was probably because of those lines right there.

The view from his balcony…


I have only been to the edge of the devastation; his apartment is right on the easternmost edge of the worst part of the destruction, but it is breathtaking. Forlorn-looking stuffed animals in trees amidst pieces of houses maybe miles away. Trees shorn as though a giant-sized lawn more went over them. Apartments gutted, everything having been sucked out of them. Homes and businesses flattened to the foundation. Everything coated with a bizarre paper mache looking stuff. Pieces of 2×2 lumber stabbed into a wall as though they were thrown like a spear.


Trauma’s a funny thing, not until I was away from my only child did the full force of this hit me: I could have lost him last night. Also, the full force of this: many mothers did lose their babies. Nineteen dead in this county alone, more across the state.


The fragility of our infrastructure hit me with the force of a tornado, too. Electricity gone, our connection to one another gone. It took all day before I heard from some of the church friends I checked in with. How very temporary we are. How powerful we think we are, and how quickly we are reduced to rubble, sticks, and the bits of fluff with which we insulate ourselves against the cold world.

But I’m also amazed by the way we come together in the face of it. The lines of people waiting to donate blood. My son’s land lady, who couldn’t get a car close to his apartment so she ran several blocks there at 3 a.m. with another wave of storm coming on to check on the mostly students who live in her complex. My friends who went around Cookeville dropping off water, canned goods, and pet food to places that were distributing it. And so many other stories I’m sure we’ll hear in the weeks to come. “Look for the helpers,” Mr. Rogers said, when things are scary. They are always there, and I’ve never been more grateful for them, professional or civilian. There are a lot of heroes in Cookeville tonight.

Brandon said he thought he could use a walk, so we did, strolling among the strewn wooden skeletons and siding skin and puffed fiberglass and paper mache guts of people’s homes lying all around us. As we walked away from where the workers were smashing the remnants of a twisted electric tower to bits, that human noise receded and the chorus of spring peepers filled the air. Little frogs who had no doubt literally been outside in a tornado less than 12 hours before, filling the air with their urgent songs to create more of them, celebrating life in its most elemental form, maybe singing gratitude, too. I understand that song, and this one: Life Goes On.

Posted in A Day In The Life, Creatures, mindfulness

Delight

Last week I gave a sermon entitled, How Can I Be Joyful When Everything is Awful? In it, I highlighted a book of essays by Ross Gay entitled The Book of Delights. He made a simple, even obvious practice of noticing things to be delighted in, and writing a mini essay every day about something that delighted him. I’ll post the sermon here, or somewhere, later. But I’ve been dipping into this practice myself, in place of my Gratitude practice (3 things I’m grateful for each day). Gratitude implies reciprocal obligation, but Delight requires nothing but presence, and for that reason I love it. So I thought I would also make a practice of sharing some of my delight here, so that you can find yours too.

Here’s today’s.

Most people don’t like spiders. They fascinate me. I think jumping spiders are adorable (and I once adopted one), and orb weavers are queens. Last month I noticed a web in my bushes that looked like an upside-down, 2-layer parachute. I posted it on Facebook and a naturalist friend of mine told me it was the web of a Bowl-and-Doily Spider. They catch prey in the “bowl” and lie in wait in the “doily” underneath. Damn, that’s cool! Anything that builds things is cool, even if I do a crazy dance after smacking into them while hiking.

This morning, I went for my simple half-mile walk around the block with Bandit, after skipping several days. It’s been hard to get up (allergies? grief?). There were spiderwebs everywhere in the wild places along the road, gem-studded with sparkling dew snagging rainbows from the slanting rains of the early morning sun. I am struck by how often my delights are contained in this 12-minute morning walk, and how much I struggle to do it, despite that.

Posted in A Day In The Life

Where I’ve Been

On February 2, I was at an event and had an attack of acute pancreatitis that was, I can tell you, among the most pain endurable. My doctor said, it’s like the alien in Aliens bursting out of you. Pretty accurate. I was in such agony that I was writhing, moving constantly, trying to find a slightly more comfortable position, to the point that I was sore the next day. My husband called it “agony aerobics.” Also accurate.

As it turned out, I had acute cholecystitis too — gallstones, causing the pancreatitis. My gallbladder was full of them. They took it out on the 7th. I stayed in the hospital until the 11th, and I’ve been recovering since then.

Why do doctors tell you some crazy conservative estimate of how long it is going to take you to recover from surgery? Two weeks, they told me. Maybe some people recover from having their gallbladder removed, but I am not one of them. Here I am, a month later, still struggling.

To literally add insult to injury, on the 25th I got a call that one of our best friends, Joe, had collapsed on his sister’s lawn and was life-flighted to Erlanger, and the next day, he was gone of a massive stroke. Joe gamed with us every week and was best man at my wedding and was just a light to everyone around him.

Needless to say, February has not been kind. I feel like I’ve been gone, on another planet, and am coming back to a world that went on without me (because of course it did), and am struggling to remember how to fit in and function. I have a month of course work to make up when I return to class on Monday. I haven’t worked in a month.

So this is me, tentatively stretching my muscles, writing something because despite everything, this is still the year I write. I still don’t know what, exactly. It doesn’t matter, so long as I am writing. I couldn’t even focus enough for several weeks to write in my journal, and that is really remarkable. It’s strange how pain makes it impossible to focus on anything but yourself, and I guess that’s true of emotional pain as well as physical pain. I’m struggling with both, but both are getting better.

I hope that life has been much gentler with you, and if not, please remember to be gentle with yourself. Cherish this day and the friends and family who inhabit the wonderful places in your life. Take nothing for granted. Love and light to you. ❤

Posted in A Day In The Life

O Christmas tree

It occurred to me this morning that I can have a different colored tree every day till Christmas.

I make no apologies for being THAT person… the one who’s excited about Christmas as soon as Thanksgiving is over. I missed roughly half of the Christmases in my life because I was a Jehovah’s Witness, so I am making up for lost time. I send Christmas cards, I love picking out presents and wrapping them. One of my favorites is Santa duty. Christmas morning comes, I get up early, and I set out the presents in sparkling packages, carefully arranged, and then lie on the couch to admire my handiwork and the way the tree’s lights twinkle on the packages. And I LOVE putting up the tree.

My son Brandon, who is 25 this year, loves it just as much, and is my Christmas cohort. Part of the reason I treasure this time of year so much is because I get to reminisce with Brandon. This is what past tree-putting-up-days looked like: he would help me go to the garage and get our two sets of ornaments, blue and silver or deep red and gold. We’d pick one. We’d parade in circles around the tree with lights and garland, then put up the nostalgic ornaments, the ones we made the first few Christmases after we started celebrating again, and talk about Christmases past while we listened to Nat King Cole and Dean Martin croon old carols. Then we’d turn off all the lights and admire our handiwork and yell at cats to stop bothering the tree, and enjoy the fact that Bran’s old dog, who is almost 19 this year, is still with us.

Not much has changed, really, with one exception: we no longer hang those old ornaments (I wish I had room for The Tree in the living room and a smaller nostalgic tree, but my house is small). Instead, a few weeks to a month ahead of time, we start texting each other and planning. I had the idea a couple of years ago to light the hell out of our white tree and put black ornaments on it so that they would be silhouetted against the supernova.

Last year’s tree. There are a thousand lights on this sucker.

My son is as creative as I am (he’s got a Fine Art degree) but his creativity is usually happiest married to some tinkering, technical aspect of a project. His original plan was to buy LED strip lights to go on the tree this year, and I had the idea to turn it into a giant candy cane, with the red lights as the stripes. We plotted together, went to Hobby Lobby to buy bright red and white ornaments, and he got the lights.

Only, it needed red garland, and I didn’t buy any. And the red on the strip lights was too orangey. Plan B! We sat on the couch and played with the lights’ remote control, looking at all the colors, and ultimately decided that we loved the bright white because it was so frosty-looking. Bran had the BRILLIANT idea to turn the LED strip lights inward, and with the white tree bouncing the light around it looked like the whole thing was lit from within. We covered the strip with white garland on the outside, so that you really can’t see the lights except where they are twinkling through the tree. We didn’t put any traditional lights on it at all.

We decided to deck the tree in only white and clear ornaments, and snowflake bead garland, and snow-white sparkly poinsettia flowers. We sat back down with the lights in the house off to play with the remote. It still needs a tree topper, and my plan is to buy a twinkly white snowflake for that. I loved the white lights the best still, but it’s also a lot of fun to play with the colors and the white ornaments look great in any color, or all of them.

And it was fun to sync with techno, too. Note beloved old Rascal basking in the neon lights.

Next year, red garland and all those ornaments I just bought. And maybe some high tech controls for Bran to play with. Or, you never know, we may go with another idea entirely, or a new tree, because that’s how we roll.