What if thanksgiving was a way of life instead of just another holiday? And what if gratitude wasn’t an incidental afterthought or an obligatory chore? What if the ability to be grateful was, in fact, an ingenious tool capable of transforming even the most powerfully negative states of consciousness? Just, “Thank you,” that ubiquitous sentiment, so easy to fake or forget altogether – what if it was actually a compass in the wilderness that pointed unfailingly in the direction of peace? And what if I actually trusted it? What if I followed it?
I met a woman when I was walking through New Mexico, Georgette Endicott, and she told me a little story about her mother that still echoes after all these years. It’s just an image, really, and the image is this: An old Italian matriarch is living out her final years alone in the rainy grey of Washington state. She wakes up every morning and first thing, goes to her kitchen window, parts the curtains, and looks outside. It’s Washington, so more often than not it’s a miserable, shitty mess. But every morning, no matter what, the old woman smiles at whatever she sees and says, “Oh, che bella giornata.” What a beautiful day.
Imagine the implications of living this kind of gratitude over the course of decades, of saying thank you to the miserable, shitty mess in all of its manifestations. To rejection: “Thank you.” To the ache of longing: “Thank you.” To despair, to humiliation, even to death: “Che bella giornata.”
What would it mean to cultivate an authentic gratitude for every experience? For me, when I can remember the practice real-time, it turns everything into a catalyst for growth or healing. Thanking fear in a moment of fear transforms that fear (and whatever triggered it) into an ally, a generous benefactor offering me the gift of itself. The fear also becomes an invitation this way, an invitation to experience its opposite: faith. It’s one thing to talk about something like faith. It’s another to live it, and I can only really live it if I’ve known its absence. It’s the same with anything. Take forgiveness. Without getting hurt, there’s no opportunity to forgive, no opportunity to embody the unique inner liberation of relinquishing my capacity for hatred. So, thank you, hurt. Thank you, fear. Thank you to anything that takes me down and tears me apart, because you are giving me the chance to rise, to be whole again, but this time, whole having experienced and integrated brokenness, which is an informed kind of wholeness, a “wholier” wholeness.
This gratitude is not naïve. It’s not a form of denial or avoidance, or a false cheeriness. Far from it. It is an old woman waking up from the sweet respite of her dreams, getting out of her comfortable bed, parting the curtains and looking right into it, the truth of that particular day, whatever it may be. The miserable, shitty mess might still hurt, but with gratitude, it’s no longer an enemy. It’s a teacher. An old friend. “Oh, my beloved shame, che bella, che bella. My sweet confusion, che bella. Enlighten me. Heal me. Show me what it means to feel you. Show me what it is to be human. Thank you, thank you, thank you.” The miserable, shitty mess becomes the ground for empathy and connection, because who hasn’t been in that mess? We humans who are all destined to die, who are all so vulnerable in body and sensitive in mind, who among us is exempt from pain? No one. So, thank you, pain. Thank you for initiating me into this vast human tribe.
So, what if thanksgiving had nothing to do with turkey and football and Black Friday shopping sprees? What if it was a way of life, the constant mantra in the background of all moments?