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Gratitude, A Way of Life

Gratitude is thankfulness, but without the gluttony, don’t you think? As we enter into the winter holiday season, my mind turns to the aspects of the holidays that we love about the holidays. Some of the holidays are religious, but others, like Thanksgiving were created by a President. These holidays have meaning for us all in different ways. Today I ask myself the ways we can celebrate family or community that aren’t filled with political incorrectness, materialism, or religious antagonism. That may be a monstrous task. Yet, our society has been in disarray to the point where we must look at our lives differently.

 

In my life, I always loved the Native Americans and their love for nature and the land. When, as an adult, I discovered the truth in our country’s Thanksgiving lie, I was torn. Torn because I didn’t want to celebrate what had happened to the Wampanoag, that both saddened and angered me. At the same time, Thanksgiving was the time it seemed my family got together and celebrated. The season was not as stressful as Christmas. Even as a child, I could feel the tension in family at Christmas that wasn’t there at Thanksgiving. At the Thanksgiving meal, everyone was merely peaceful and thankful.

My dear cousin married a Navajo musician and was the first to explain to me why she no longer celebrated the U.S. holiday. She is a kind woman who I know I can talk freely with and explore feelings, thoughts, and even dreams. Also, when talking with my cousin, I didn’t have to explain the tensions or dynamics of a big Southern family to her. She knew and lived a similar experience. Each year afterwards though, I think of the truth of how the Native Americans were treated, used, and then later, not only abused but massacred…some tribes to the point of extinction.

These stories are learned through reading the histories of Black Elk, Tecumseh, and The Trail of Tears. When I lived in Oklahoma, my favourite thing about living there was to see signs saying that the person was entering the Sac-Fox Nation or the Pottowatomie Nation. I was excited to be able to live among such noble people. Yet, they were treated as outcasts. The Native American there was treated like the blacks of the South were treated when I grew up in the 60s.

Years passed and I continued to learn how unmerciful the whites were to the tribes. In the book, 1491 (Charles C. Mann) a history is laid out about how the tribes welcomed the white man or the Spaniard, and then were exploited through the Americas. They were not immune to smallpox brought here by the Europeans. We stole their land and moved them to reservations or Oklahoma. In the comedy show, Latin History for Morons   Netflix says, “John Leguizamo won’t rest until every moron becomes less of a moron.”

Usually, in writing blogs, I like to have plenty of photos to break up the words. As we enter the “holiday season” I exhort you to change the holiday. Let’s take a holiday from bitterness, greed, and strife. Let’s choose to love one another and care for our world and our neighbor so that each day we live a practice of gratitude. Gratitude does take practice too.

Human beings that we are, it is easy for one to focus on the negative aspects of life. We forget the beauty and gratitude of merely waking up. Grief does not rest during these times either and can even be exponentially triggered. Can we take a holiday from the rush-a-holic business of this time of the year to pay attention to feelings: both the feelings of self as well as the other? Can we practice that each time we think something is wrong with a person to try and find what is right?

Even writing that paragraph was a hard practice for me. Why? Because I know that if I ask another to practice something, I must also look in the mirror at my choices and my actions. This practice of gratitude doesn’t have to be vocalized and in fact, vocalization can mask a dark reality. Look deep inside of yourself. What do you see there? Can you give thanks for all that you are? I know I can’t. Yet, I can give thanks that I have friends who love me just as I am.

My dog sits at my right foot watching me as I write the end of this blog. She thinks I sit at the computer for too long. Pets teach us the true meaning of gratitude, so does nature. Turn your Black Friday into a green one by going for a hike in nature with a loved one. There are many ways that we can practice gratitude that include all of humanity and our world. Let’s start this year.

 

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Giving Thanks

Giving thanks is a good thing. Many theologians believe that is humanity’s only purpose in life. Not sure where I stand on that right now because I believe God made us more than that. I do know I don’t celebrate the destruction of the Native American communities. Of course, if the Native Americans had not saved the white people of that long ago time, my family probably would not be here. Most of my descendants came over in the 17th century.

While I am thankful this year, I cannot say I am happy. This is the first Thanksgiving in eleven years without my wife by my side. At first, I planned on hiding out in the condo. Part of me still wishes for the solitude of grief. The other part however wants to embrace the family and friends who still love me and who are still here

Birdie looking for deer.

for me and Birdie. Birdie of course is thankful and happy. As long as she can go with, that dog is happy.

If Birdie could drive she would. She wouldn’t leave me either I bet. I know she is thankful for me. Birdie is also thankful for this condo. She even makes me smile when we come in from a walk and she runs hard as she can in the small space. She then encourages me to play and be happy with her. She knows we are safe here and that this is our new place.

A safe place to live was my goal. Once it was clear that my wife wanted a long separation, I had to find a place to live that was affordable, safe, and quiet that also accepted a small dog.

Quiet is as much for healing as it is for sanity. Here on the mountain, there is plenty of solitude. At first I thought I might have moved to a ghost town, but I moved here at the end of the summer tourist season. I look forward to ski season. They are already making snow at Beech Mountain Ski Resort.

When we returned from my book reading the other day, Beech Mountain had a nice covering of snow. It was both exciting and scary. I was thankful that the roads were clear since I haven’t gotten snow tires yet. When we made it to the condo, Birdie was excited to see the snow even though the temperature was at 28 and we didn’t have her coat.

Thankfulness can come from many places in our hearts, our lives, our work. Just because a holiday happens doesn’t mean we won’t grieve the loss of loved ones. Whether we lose someone dear because of death, separation, divorce, moving away, loss is hard and grief inevitable. As I go to my family’s tomorrow, I plan to talk to them about my sadness while also enjoying my time with them. The thing is, life is short. My ex (it still feels weird to say that) knows that I am thankful for her. In an email regarding something else, we expressed our mutual gratitude. That doesn’t mean it isn’t hard or sad.

We can be thankful regardless of our emotions for gratitude is acknowledgement of a gift. Whether it’s the gift of a dog’s presence or solitude matters not. Gifts are not those things bought at the store in a holiday rush. The true gifts are those things around us like nature, family, friends, work, love, play. Those are the things that make life worth living. I am thankful that I have a life worth living.

Valle Crucis across from Holy Cross Episcopal Church

 

 

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