Heavy Gratitude

Open boxes 5

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.

Obviously.

Maybe if I keep saying it, it will start to sink in and feel more real.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.

Most years, I jump headlong in the holiday season with abandon. I turn on the Christmas music in early November, bake more pumpkin-laced baked goods than anyone can stomach, and start hauling up crates of holiday decorations from the basement in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. For me, the holiday spirit usually catches fire easily and quickly, and by the time Thanksgiving Day actually rolls around, I’m swimming in holiday cheer, oozing gratitude and thanks-giving.

But this year, for some reason, the holiday season seems to have taken me by surprise. I find myself looking at the calendar like a deer in headlights, thinking, Wait, what? It’s Thanksgiving already? Already?!? It can’t be.

Perhaps it is because our family had a busier-than-usual summer which led into an even busier fall. Or maybe it’s because time has a way of warping and contracting in ways that just don’t make sense sometimes. Maybe it’s because there is so much sadness and struggle in the world right now, although the sadness and struggle has always been there, I suppose, whether I was acutely aware of it or not.

For whatever reason, the holiday season seems a little out of place this year, like it came too early. And though there is so much that I make thankful for, the act of thanks-giving feels a little heavier and a bit more self-indulgent than usual. Don’t get me wrong, I am profoundly grateful for so many things, big and small, in my life: my husband, kids, family, and friends; food, home, and career; warm coffee, cool sheets, and sleeping in past 7 am every now and then.

Yet in light of all of the tragedies, injustices, challenges, and nasty stuff going on somewhere, everywhere – Ferguson, cancer, illness, addiction – the gratitude and the simple act of thanks-giving somehow feels insufficient, lacking a certain depth or sanctity.

I have been flooded with stories of messy, confusing, incomprehensible things in the past days, weeks, and months, as we all have been. I feel overwhelmed with confusion and sadness and bitter anger at times. Yet I also feel overwhelmed with compassion and empathy and wistful hope other times. There are no clear answers, there are no tidy boxes in which we can put our emotions – gratitude and happiness in this one; frustration and grief in another one. There is only this one big giant box we call Life.

There is a so much going on that I just don’t understand right now. A million why’s and how’s and what-can-I-do’s are running through my head. On some level, feeling gratitude and giving thanks just doesn’t seem like enough. Does it? There has to be something more. Doesn’t there?

Last week I posted this to Facebook: “If there is one thing that has become painfully clear to me over the years, it is that life is not fair. Really bad things happen to really good people and it just makes no sense. I suppose sometimes all we can do is find someone to hold the umbrella for us when the shit hits the fan. And, of course, hold the umbrella for others when they need it.”

Maybe that is the something more. Maybe the umbrella holding is enough. Maybe it is the act of holding umbrellas up and open for each other – friends and enemies, strangers and allies – that makes all the difference.

Maybe it is by holding umbrellas, arms are heavy with gratitude, that we are able to walk on holy ground.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. It is finally starting to sink in a little more. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Though, as we all know, every day is a day for thanks-giving, as difficult and insufficient as it might seem.

And so my Thanksgiving wish for you is this: May you have umbrellas in your hands and over your heads. May your arms feel heavy with gratitude.

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