The abundance of Thanksgiving posts out there pre-Thursday turned off my writing switch. All the pertinent topics had been covered, ranging from the obvious gratitude articles to the difficult travel day posts. I posted a link to one I particularly liked called, “Can you be thankful for what you don’t have?” to my Facebook page because it inverted the way we normally think on Thanksgiving. On a regular day, when we see another person’s misfortune, it’s easy to tell ourselves, “I should be grateful. Thank goodness that didn’t happen to me, or someone I love.” But does that really work? Perhaps such thinking is superficial. It rushes out of our heads as quickly as it rushes in. It sometimes makes us push aside legitimate grievances, out of guilt, and allows us to avoid dealing with our reoccurring issues. But only for a moment.
In the weeks preceding this holiday, I’ve been a mopey brat, and I haven’t liked it one bit. I’ve been feeling sorry for myself, despite all the tangible good things I could check off on a list. It bothered me. Because in the years since my divorce – where I was close to rock bottom – I’ve taken warm pride in discovering the joys of gratitude. Gratitude has come in the smallest and most random forms: a surprise phone call from a relative, connecting with a stranger, a perfectly formed sentence, the fact that my parents answer the phone because they can, and the ability to be present for a friend in need. But in the past few weeks, none of these things were working. Why?
Oh, break-up blues is an easy one, right? But how long is that card good for? My ex-cub and I broke up over two months ago. So what if I’m going to be “alone” for the holidays, when last year he and I spend Thanksgiving and Christmas together. So what if going home to NJ, where everyone is married with children underscores my “differentness.” So what if (per my last post) the dating scene looks bleak and I’m not getting any younger. So what if I’m not feeling impassioned by my day job or my writing on the side job. At least I have a job where I work with people I adore. At least I wrote a novel. What more could I ask for?
All of the above is 100% true, yes. But does this kind of talking to yourself really work? Does it automatically lift your spirits, like a “snap the F out of it” switch was flipped?
For some people, it totally works, like for my father, and some men I know. When my sisters and I were little girls and we’d cry over a boy or missing our camp friends, my father used to say to us (and he still does), “Who died?”
That used to frustrate the hell out of me. “Why does someone have to die, Dad, for me to be sad? Don’t I have a right to be sad when things aren’t going my way?”
On Thanksgiving morning, I woke up to the sun shining (ok- well at least it wasn’t raining) and my dog licking my face. My older sister and her family were in the city for a Bat Mitzvah (on Thanksgiving?) and were picking me up to drive to my parents. I had something to look forward to. Two hours of traffic, yes, but in a car filled with my nieces and nephew fighting over my Blackberry (I didn’t even know there were games on it) and iPad (the smudgy fingerprints after wards are worth it), playing with apps that my ex-cub had had the foresight to download (“for the kids”). I felt my gloom start to lift, although there was still a nagging ache. Then a friend of mine, who went through a divorce when I did, messaged me that she was feeling down. Her sincere email, on any other day, would be something I would hungrily indulge, where I’d give advice and talk about how I feel the same way. What are we doing with our lives? What is going to happen? We are in our late thirties and still processing these damn divorces? But after I got her email, it hit me. “No. No,” I replied. “Sorry, but I’m not going to feel sorry for you.” Or myself, I thought. “We have so much to be thankful for.” (I had to wrestle my Blackberry out of my niece’s hands to write this, but still). “You have to let the good stuff in,” I wrote. “But first you need to see it, in order to receive it. So get that dark shit out of the way and make room!” (Huh. Good stuff, Cougel, I thought to myself, before hitting ‘send.’) My girlfriend, rather than taking offense, thanked me. The light bulb went on, for both of us, and I was grateful for her message – a necessary mirror to my own unfounded self pity – and grateful to have her in my life.
My mother made a beautiful meal and decorated the table with brown leaves (it’s the thought that counts). She was pleased to see me eat seconds. And pleased to see that I’d put on some weight, “You don’t look sick anymore,” she said. After dinner, we watched “The Godfather,” although watching my father laugh and gesticulate while reciting the lines is better than the movie. And then, since we were sitting around with newspapers and laptops, I decided to reinstate my J-date account. Maybe there’s something to be said for a dating site that attracts people from the same culture, whom can actually pay for the service. What a revelation! I even let my mother sit next to me so we could look through all the profiles together. I expected her to say, “What’s wrong with him?” every time I dismissed someone, but this time, to my surprise, she nodded and said, “You know best, mamaleh.” I even let her chime in on what photos I should include (she nixed the one where I was holding a martini glass in my hand).
I thought back on the post I had read a few days prior, “Can we be thankful for what we don’t have?” and to my pleasant surprise, I didn’t need to conjure up all the bad things that thankfully hadn’t happened to me – or list the tangible “good things” – in order to be thankful for what was right in front of me.