We are blessed daily, starting with the fact that we get to wake up in the morning and face the day ahead. Sometimes the things we are grateful for are big, like a new job or the birth of a child. Other times they are small like enjoying a cup of coffee to start the day. Sometimes it is hard to be grateful, especially when the not so good things life throws our way start to weigh us down. I think this is why on October 3, 1863, in the midst of the civil war, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation announcing the final Thursday of November would be set aside to express appreciation for all of life’s blessings. Thanksgiving.
Usually when I think about Thanksgiving, it reminds me of my Aunt Kathy. She was an artist. She dressed in the most unusual way – in vibrant colors, flowing skirts and usually had fun earrings to match. She exuded Joy, appropriate since this was her middle name. She was so kind and generous, and I would be shocked if she had any enemies.
Most of my childhood Thanksgivings were spent at her house, and before we sat down to eat, we would go around and say something we were thankful for. I DREADED it. I would think for days before hand, trying to come up with something more creative than “I’m thankful for my family.” I knew I had much to be thankful for, but somehow it all seemed trite. Nonetheless, my turn would always arrive, and she would prompt “How about you Ab?” and smile at me, as only she could, somehow giving me the confidence to speak. She made me feel like the most important person in the room.
After I moved away, she would send me letters; letters I wish now I had kept. In her letters, she would describe the scene from her morning walk, the music she was listening to, the trinket she found while shopping, the antics of her beloved grandchildren, and the goings on of the world. The letters she sent me came in the middle of a difficult life transition and I was focusing on all the things I perceived as negative. Her letters were the bright spot in my weeks. Among other things, they allowed me to see how much I was loved and supported, even from far away. They were encouraging, and confirmed goodness in the world. She never said life was perfect, or free of burdens and hassles. However, looking at life through her letters encouraged me to identify the beautiful things in my own life. If you think about it, I think you will find that this is the true definition of gratitude; an affirmation of the good and wonderful things in the world and a recognition that the source of this goodness often involves the love and support of others.
Years later, on this Thanksgiving morning, not unlike most mornings, I considered what I am grateful for. My family, the friends who have stuck by me, the roof over my head, my work, even my puppy who got muddy footprints all over the bathroom this morning. I also thought of her, and all the things she taught me. My practice of gratitude started with her. What I now realize is that in her letters to me, she was probably just writing all the things she was grateful for, in a much more eloquent way, and sending them to me. Somehow, she knew I had much to learn about recognizing life’s small blessings and exhibiting immense gratitude for them. She realized and appreciated God’s beautiful life design, and passed that on to me. As I continued to think of my many blessings, I realized what I wish I had said all those times she asked me is that I was so thankful for her and her wonderful example of a life well lived.