(In)Gratitude on Thanksgiving

All the FeelingsI recently heard a historian giving an interview about the original Thanksgiving. She pointed out that what made the English colonists so thankful was the awful year that had come before. The Pilgrims hadn’t meant to settle on a rocky coastline with poor soil and long, frigid winters. They’d been heading to Virginia but got blown off course and landed on Cape Cod in desperation. That first winter, they lost a huge chunk of their numbers to famine and illness. Native Americans in the area had also been decimated by a smallpox epidemic. If it weren’t for assistance from Squanto and treaties with other members of the Wampanoag, the Pilgrims would have been no more than a footnote in the history books.

Relations between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans whose land they overran were complicated to say the least. The event Americans came to celebrate as Thanksgiving was the exception, not the rule, which is why UAINE has been holding a National Day of Mourning on Thanksgiving Day in Plymouth every year since 1970. I went to the event and march one year and brought a stuffed pumpkin to the potluck afterward. There were speeches and a crowd of people marching through the empty streets of Plymouth shouting “Free Leonard Pelletier!” and a church basement full of overly earnest White activists and Native Americans who didn’t really want to talk to them. I’d like to think I fell somewhere in the middle, but I’m not sure it made much of a difference to either group that I went. At the time, it was a nice way to opt out of the obligatory family gathering.

This year, I spent Thanksgiving with my partner’s family. They’re lovely people and they put together a lovely meal, but they aren’t my people. My people live 3,000 miles away in a land I don’t belong to anymore, and I haven’t spent Thanksgiving with them since the turn of the century. I grew up in a tiny, broken branch of my family tree. Thanksgiving with two people is depressing. Thanksgiving with ten people, most of whom you aren’t related to, is also depressing.

My Facebook feed has been full of people giving thanks for things, and IRL communities I belong to have also been focusing on gratitude. Someone said this morning that you DO gratitude — that it’s a practice, not a feeling. It’s been an important part of my spiritual practice and one I used to post about frequently. Perhaps it’s time to get back to it. I stopped posting gratitude lists on this blog in part because I wanted to narrow its focus and make it more professional, to make this space less about Frances and more about the things Frances cares most about: mostly books and poetry — both the literature itself and the business that surrounds it — but also feminism, racial and social justice, and spiritual practice. This week when I spoke with my sober mentor we agreed that my homework would be to write a gratitude list. I’ll share part of that list in a moment, but first I want to acknowledge that I feel no gratitude in my heart right now. My heart is charred and toasted, a not-so-fancy piece of charcoal. Maybe I can light it on fire and cook a burger with it, then take the ashes and plant them in the ground where they might nourish something green and fragile in the spring.

This too shall pass.

Great Mother, thank you for

  • the beautiful home I bought with my partner almost 12 months ago
  • floors made of wood you can’t find anymore
  • a washer and dryer in our home
  • gas heat
  • air conditioning
  • electricity
  • indoor plumbing
  • a safe(ish) neighborhood
  • less than $20,000 in personal debt (not counting my car lease)
  • a beautiful car
  • math skills
  • Mr. Money Mustache
  • Buddhism and stoicism
  • the Women’s Sacred Circle at First Parish in Cambridge, MA
  • waking up this morning without a hangover or crippling shame
  • a partner who validates my feelings and gives me reality checks
  • friends willing to pick me up and take me places when I can’t get out the door
  • having all my needs met at this moment
  • this comfy chair I’m sitting in
  • the awesomely complex piece of machinery I’m using to type this gratitude list
  • the tiny computer I can carry around in my pocket that does all sorts of things for me, not the least of which is letting me talk to people who aren’t standing right beside me
  • the shells I picked off a beach in Monterey, California, broken to show the perfect spirals inside and polished by the waves to an opalescent sheen
  • memories from a beautiful place
  • coming from a beautiful place
  • knowledge that in just a few months it will be warm and sunny again in New England
  • a beautiful niece who is always happy to see me
  • a brother and sister-in-law who are always happy to see me
  • warm clothes, stylish clothes, and clothes that have lasted for years
  • dear, dear friends whose names I won’t publish on the web to protect their privacy
  • coloring books
  • art supplies
  • 20-plus years’ worth of skills I’ve learned to help me cope with chronic, crippling, and deadly illnesses
  • Steven Universe and Rebecca Sugar
  • The New Yorker Magazine
  • Poetry Magazine
  • Getting published in Borderlands: The Texas Poetry Review
  • Submittable and Duotrope
  • Email
  • The Intartubes
  • Adrienne Rich
  • Poetry
  • The Oxford comma
  • No longer being hung up on perfect grammar
  • My doctors and health care providers
  • Decent health insurance
  • My amazing job
  • A room of my own just for working in
  • A collection of music, movies, and TV shows I can watch whenever I want without paying extra for — both in hard copy and in the cloud
  • The cloud
  • High-speed internet without having to use the evil cable company
  • Not being obligated to spend Christmas with family
  • The huge number of retreat centers within 100 miles of me
  • A day of sobriety

Amen & Blessed be.

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