Tomorrow is Thanksgiving – that holiday of bustling planning and the assembling of motley communities into small, oven-roasted spaces while conducting on-the-fly quadratic equations to ensure the turkey is done simultaneously with everything else.
Oh, how I love this beloved afternoon of culturally-sanctioned gorging, how it’s OK to swab your demolished dinner plate with a chunk of roll after unbuttoning your pants, and to publicly swear it’s your last bite, at least until the pies come rolling out.
I also love the changeable cast of characters clinking glasses around the table, the time off work, the way my husband, Dan, says every year on the Wednesday before, “Let’s start fasting now so we can eat more on Thanksgiving.”
And perhaps underneath the cheerful gluttony and wine-fueled laughter, there are a few, small holiday-themed issues that tend to expand in our mental anxiety chambers. Will we have enough matching and un-chipped plates for all the guests? Will the green chile sweet potatoes be too unconventional for Uncle Bob? Will we have to play social mediator between the conversationally-impaired or the politically-opposed? And where’s the app to track each guest’s current food intolerances?
The answer to pre-game nerves seems embedded in the very nature of the holiday. Because really, what is Thanksgiving if not a festival of gratitude? A literal giving of thanks for an unbelievable bounty, which is truer today than ever. There are millions of people in this world who will never experience the comfort, safety and wealth that we enjoy right now. And although gratitude is a vague buzzword we like to strive toward when we’re not consumed with complaints about our imperfect lives, we forget that it’s an active practice and an inside job.
Gratitude is happiness that is not dependent on achieving or acquiring more, but is simply embracing the ordinary blessings of your life. Remember, there are people (and perhaps even a loyal animal) who love you, library cards are still free, and if you accidentally woke at too early thirty, you may be positioned to catch the holy celestial symphony of a sunrise. Lucky, lucky you.
Gratitude is the radical act of not grasping for more but savoring the gifts of your life right now. No need to wait until everything falls into perfect alignment, because sorry, it won’t. As CEO of your own gratitude firm, your first executive action could be contributing to another’s well-being.
Dr. Dian Killian, founder and director of the Center for Collaborative Communication, says “the need to enrich the lives of others, to find a purpose in life through service to others, is one of the strongest of universal human needs.” And when our needs are met, we feel joy, satisfaction and yes, gratitude.
These positive feelings become the fuel to continue to be a light unto others, which equals more happiness, more gratitude. What great news! There will never be a dearth of people or organizations which could use your service. As Maya Angelou so poignantly says, “Be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.”
And because gratitude is a muscle that grows with use, why not align yourself with the spirit of Thanksgiving right now? Right in the midst of your chipped, thrift store dishes and holiday assemblage of sundry characters, some of whom have been canceling out each others’ political votes for years. And though it may seem like a consolation prize on the game show of life, when faced with difficult people, we can feel grateful for the opportunity to practice compassion and understanding toward those who challenge us.
Luckily, gratitude has taken a different evolutionary line than perfection. There is no common ancestor. Forget trying to pose your Thanksgiving table for a glossy magazine photo spread, forego buying the most expensive wine, and rest assured no one’s actually keeping track of whether your signature dish was better in 2015.
Really, what matters is that we’re here together, propping each other up, all of us doing our human best. Let your table be a place of welcoming, warmth and sharing. Everything tastes better doused in kindness, in friendship. Author Melody Beattie said, “Gratitude can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”
Gratitude pries that crazy heart muscle open, allowing more tolerance, more generosity, more joy. And tolerance, generosity and joy will be much more valuable at your Thanksgiving table than flawless, matching plates.
Rachel Turiel is a Durango Herald columnist, managing editor of Edible Southwest Colorado magazine and mother to two children who tolerate her zealous and ongoing culinary experiments. She blogs about growing food and a family at 6512 feet at http://6512andgrowing.com.