Thanksgiving feels different this year. My attitude towards gratitude has undergone a seismic shift. Maybe it’s the constant swirl of negative news and brutal behavior unfolding around me that has opened my eyes to this single realization: I need to get raw with my gratitude.
By that I mean this: I need for my sense of gratitude to get greedy. I need to make sure it spills over the top and gets a little sloppy. I want it to leak and overflow. This means that I must grow my gratitude exponentially. I must find a way to enlarge its space so that it spills over. I want to get sloppy with it.
Maybe one way to do that is to expand my perspective on gratitude; widen the way I practice the act of giving thanks. Instead of just giving thanks for everything that has been given to me, for example, I will also give thanks for everything that has been taken away – essentially, training my brain to celebrate the Presence of Absence.
I will celebrate and acknowledge all the absences in my life that have somehow made my life better. This helps make my gratitude feel, well, grittier. Larger. I’ll use that word “raw” again. I will celebrate the Presence of Absence.
In addition to celebrating the beauty of absence, I will remember to give thanks for the tiny things; the minutia that we mostly miss as we move through our busy days, like the sight of something as simple as a golden-yellow leaf falling from a tree, or a child stepping up onto a big yellow school bus or the smell of fresh cilantro and ginger root as I stand in the produce section. I will train my brain to appreciate the teeny-tiny stuff unfolding around me as much I appreciate the dramatic, over-the-top stuff. I must remember to view the ordinary as extraordinary.
Another thing I need to do? Remember my mama’s mantra – “Everything’s gonna be okay” – and embrace it with every breath that I take, particularly when I’m in pain or in the throes of confusion and/or anxiety. Let me say it again. Let me write it again: Everything’s gonna be okay.
When I say those four words out loud – and yes, I’m counting “gonna” as a full, real word, because that’s how my mama said it — my sense of gratitude grows greater and my spirit seems to stabilize. It brings my mother closer and reminds me that there’s a larger world swirling around me of which I am a vital part. I am not alone. Darkness will only stay for a minute. Brightness will be back.
This knowledge – far more of an absolute fact that a misty-eyed promise – fills my heart with hope and thankfulness. It’s comforting to know that even (perhaps especially) in the shadowy moments, the light is gathering strength, preparing to reveal itself, and I am grateful to be able to offer these words up as a gift to you right now, particularly if you feel stuck in a dark place:
Everything’s gonna be okay.
As we sit down to the Family Feast today, let’s remember that gratitude is kind of like a muscle: If we don’t exercise it daily with discipline and intention, it will not grow. To live within us, it must, well, live within us. It’s got to breathe. It is a living thing.
So today, I will remember my mama’s mantra, and I invite you to remember it as well: If you’re going through a foggy patch and cannot seem to find your footing, remember that everything’s gonna be okay. But you’ve got to do more than just “remember” it. You’ve got to claim it. Holler it out loud. Make my mama’s mantra your own.
So to summarize: On this day of thanksgiving, find gratitude for not just the stuff you have, but the stuff that you no longer have to hold onto. Train your brain to appreciate the extraordinary joy of ordinary things. Seek refuge and comfort not just in the hope for a brighter day but in the promise that a brighter day is on its way, and we must be grateful for this moment, right now.
If you’re sitting down to dinner with a spirit that’s tangled in tension or peppered with angst, just wrap your arms around yourself and whisper your new mantra:
Everything’s gonna be okay.
And yes, in this case, gonna is a very, very real word.
Kristin Clark Taylor is an author and a journalist. She can be reached at [email protected].