Trying for thankful

Being thankful is not really in my genes.

Growing up in Budapest we did not celebrate Thanksgiving — obviously — and even after living the U.S. for years and years I never really got into it. It seems like a random holiday for an outsider and more than that: it is such an American thing to be thankful. It is such an optimistic, almost child-like feeling to us, gloomy Eastern Europeans — to be thankful and to celebrate,  to list all the things that went so well, to hold hands at the dinner table with loved ones.

The closest I get to feeling thankful is feeling immense gratitude for things not having gone worse than they could have this year. Is that the true spirit of thanksgiving? I am not sure. Feeling thankful is still very foreign to me. And really, I don’t mean to make fun of it, because there is something endearing about it, something child-like, happy.

I really want to be able to feel that way and so I am giving it a try. It’s an excellent challenge, because this year has brought more death and doubt than I have ever experienced in my life.

There have been eight deaths — should I be thankful that the count isn’t nine or ten? Those who died — with the exception of my grandmother — were distant relatives and friends. Should I be thankful that they weren’t close family? I felt doubt about my career, my parenting, my marriage, my life — should I be thankful that none of these actually fell apart?

I suppose the answer is yes to all of this, but this attitude still seems cynical. Thinking of the things that went right is much harder and much more important. It requires slowing down, observation, appreciation of the small things. It requires turning my head and my heart away from all the bad stuff that could have been worse and raising my eyes to what is really, truly amazing on its own. Those things are so much smaller, so much harder to see than the big things in life — death, disappointment, tragedy.

This evening on my couch with my laptop and my words. My husband watching cooking shows next to me. My son wrestling around in his bed as he is trying to fall asleep. The glass of red wine next to me. My mom in the kitchen making my favorite meal. My dad as he crouches down to let my son play with his mustache. The sound of my computer when my brother calls from his travels and we talk for an hour without noticing time or the distance. The few minutes I have by myself every morning in my car with loud music and the open road. A cup of tea and my quiet office at the beginning of the day. A stack of books next to my bed. A new pen. Fresh jeans. The sound of the furnace kicking on during a snowy night. High beams. Peppermints. A finished story.

These are things that are perfect on their own — they could not be worse or better, they are just there, ready to be enjoyed and noticed. I have to teach myself to notice these every day and to not be sidelined by all that goes wrong in life.

Maybe that is what I am thankful for this year — this lesson in the significance of the small, and the fleetingness of what is so huge.

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