If the only prayer we say in our lifetime is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” –German philosopher Meister Eckhart
We celebrated our Canadian Thanksgiving holiday yesterday, a month and a half earlier than the American celebration. In a time dominated by another wave of COVID outbreaks, advice to stay home and minimize social contacts, it might have been easy to forget what the holiday symbolizes: gratitude for the bounties of the harvest and blessings shared in the past year.
Thanksgiving may symbolize thankfulness, but it was difficult to summon a sense of gratitude when I first awakened. Daily, my mood threatens to take a nose dive with living in a continuing pandemic, hearing or reading the constant reports of the turbulence and struggle in the world, and its unending hostility and violence. Frustration, fear or worry are emotions that seep too readily under my skin as this strange life in COVID-19 continues. It often requires conscious effort to re-direct my thoughts to those things in life that offer solace, joy and gratitude; my spirits are all to easily dampened by the daily deluge of world news and updates of COVID-19 case numbers, and no amount of humorous posts on social media will lift them.
Yesterday, like many other Toronto families, we would be celebrating without our family gathering together for a traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey and all the trimmings. I admit that all of us were feeling a bit bummed by that; it was not about the food, but about the continuing isolation from our daughter and her family. Late in the morning, my telephone rang. My daughter was calling. “Let’s go for a walk,” she said, and an hour later my husband and I met her and her daughter near one of Toronto’s many urban trails. We spent the afternoon walking in the crispness of an autumn afternoon, among trees decked out in their seasonal finery, all scarlet and gold. Who could not fail to have their spirits uplifted by simply having time together in the open air of a fall afternoon? We returned home, spirits refreshed, grateful we had the afternoon together, and remembering that despite everything, our lives are good, blessed by living near our eldest daughter after so many years of living far apart, even if we wouldn’t be sitting around the dinner table together this year.
I saw the season’s first bluebird
this morning, one month ahead
of its scheduled arrival. Lucky I am
to go off to my cancer appointment
having been given a bluebird, and,
for a lifetime, have been given
(Ted Kooser, Winter Morning Walks, 2001)
After we returned home, I turned back to preparing the material for this week’s “Writing Through Cancer” virtual workshop for Gilda’s Club. I decided on a different exercise than I had originally planned, inspired by the poem, “Still, I Give Thanks,” by the poet Marie Reynolds, something I discovered four years ago on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac. Reynold’s title seemed so fitting for these times—and coupled with the experience of living with and being treated for cancer, it serves as a reminder that there is much to be grateful for. Here’s an excerpt:
Day fourteen in the radiation waiting room
and the elderly man sitting next to me
says he gives thanks every day because
he can still roll over and climb out of bed… Lately, I too, give thanks for the things I can do—
sit, stand, take my next breath. Thanks for my feet,
my fingers, the ears on my head…Each day, supine
on the table, I listen to the razoring whine
of the radiation beam. It hurts to lie still,
the table sharp as an ice floe beneath the bones
of my spine. Still, I give thanks for the hands
that position me, their measurements and marking
pens, the grid of green light that slides like silk
across my skin…
(From: The Writer’s Almanac, June 21, 2016)
“Still I give thanks…” What a simple phrase and yet, a powerful reminder to ourselves to find gratitude for what we do have instead of being caught up in what is missing or difficult in our lives. Where do you find gratitude?
Reynolds’ poem is lovely reminder that even in cancer, there in much in your life to be grateful for. Begin with the phrase, “Still I give thanks,” and, usually her poem as a model, see where it takes you. Chances are you’ll discover, like I do when I stop to remember and remind myself, of remembering and practicing gratitude for the small every-day gifts we have in our lives.