Dear Lily June,
I am generally a cynical skeptic. Armed with keen senses of irony, sarcasm and even social criticism, I tend to give the world a bit of the side eye. The only trouble with the side eye, of course, is that you’re only seeing the world from that side. And for all the advantages of my being leery–maybe even wittily so sometimes– I’m coming to learn more and more as I get older that I might need to be a little more open-minded and open-eyed if I’m going to lead you beyond the dark corners of my past and into the wide open skies of your future.
One thing I’m not, luckily, is dense. A piano needs only to fall on my head on my head five times for me to get the point. And in this case, Lily, the point is gratitude.
Falling Piano #1 – The Be Thankful Challenge
Way back in November, the incredibly kind mother and blogger, Shelie27 of Life In My Tin Can, nominated me for the Be Thankful Challenge. Overwhelmed by the approaching holidays and encroaching family members, I never got to it. I’m thankful right now, Lily, for Shelie’s patience, and I promise to come back to her challenge at the end of this post.
Her nomination was the first attention I paid to attitude of gratitude movement, like the opening cloud to the piano storm.
Falling Piano #2 – The New York Times Pro-Gratitude Article
Around that time in November, right before Thanksgiving, there was a lot of social media flying around about, unsurprisingly, giving thanks. This article by Arthur C. Brooks appealed to me in particular because he talked about a “fake it ’til you make it” policy toward gratitude. (Did I mention I’m not naturally inclined to be grateful?)
He said one thing in particular that really hit me:
“…[A]cting grateful can actually make you grateful.”
Like the Kierkegaard argument that if you go through the motions of belief, faith will be the gift God grants you for your efforts, this appealed to my inner armchair philosopher. It was an experiment I could actually test, and I made a note of it in a list of things I wanted to blog about: Fake Gratitude and See Where That Gets You.
Still, I didn’t do it–or blog about it–and a heavy wind of pianos started brewing.
Falling Piano #3 – My Work Email with This Terrible Link
As I said, Lily, I’m generally a cynical skeptic, and thus, I trust WebMD links about as far as I can throw them. And with my bad back, I shouldn’t be picking up or catapulting any websites without seriously bending at the knees first.
But I had to find it interesting that, in December, my university, which sponsors a Wellness Wednesday email each week, included that little number above. The article claims that those who are grateful take better care of themselves with diet and exercise, manage stress better, and overall have better functioning immune systems.
That could be some hardcore gratitude snake oil sales pitch. But if it works–and it’s free–why wouldn’t I try it for me and for you? After all, it will help to be armed with this medical technique when, after you fall off your bike scraping your knees on the concrete, I don’t bring you a bandaid, but instead tell you to give thanks for the bicycle in the first place. (I’m kidding, Lily. I think.)
I was starting to catch a whiff of the pianos in the air, like the electricity emanated into the ground by a lightning bolt whose electrons are tiny pianos.
Falling Piano #4 – One of My Favorite Bloggers Wrote This
Allie Potts of Allie Potts Writes wrote this particular post back in November of 2014, but I only stumbled upon it in January of 2016. Ostensibly about how creepy crawlers took over her backyard, it ended up being about how a problem can actually become a blessing.
Of course this is the same blogger who shared this quotation from Wade Ayeni:
“Be thankful for what you have. Your life, no matter how bad you think it is, is someone else’s fairy tale.”
She always has something to teach me about gratitude and positivity.
By this point, I’m sensing a piano drizzle.
Falling Piano #5 – I Found This New York Times Anti-Gratitude Article
Finally, from Barbara Ehrenreich, comes a little opposition to this whole, “Be thankful” nonsense. Her article argues how selfish it can be to focus on all the good things in your life–just to improve your own life. Sure, she says, it’ll make you happy but it doesn’t compel us to take action for great social change, like solidarity.
Her words more closely align with my own feelings when she writes about, for instance, how you come to be able to sit down to eat:
“Saying grace to an abstract God is an evasion; there are crowds, whole communities of actual people, many of them with aching backs and tenuous finances, who made the meal possible.”
And yet, I found myself arguing with Ehrenreich in my head, Lily. For one thing, what’s the matter with improving oneself and one’s own quality of life? For another, her argument that if we’re grateful, we’ll rest on our laurels, doesn’t seem to hold water against the sources cited in the Pro-Gratitude article, one of which claimed that those who are grateful actually end up giving more.
Finally, I’ve found a way to be cynical about NOT being grateful. And for that, I’m thankful, because by this point, I’m standing in a veritable piano downpour without an umbrella, splashing through a myriad of ebonies, ivories and pedals.
All of which is to say, Lily, that though it goes against my natural impulses as a curmudgeonly grump, I’m going to try this new thing (amid a slew of other new things) in 2016. I’m going to occasionally try to see the lemonade in the lemons, so to speak. And since lately, I’ve been experiencing terrible pain–courtesy of an IC flare paired with an infection that illicited a drug reaction–it would really help me to focus on what I do have going for me. So without further ado, I bring you (drum roll, please)…
The Be Thankful Challenge of
2015 2016 (Sorry I’m late!)
- Share the image above in your blog post.
- Write about five people in your life you are thankful for.
- Write about five things in
20152016 that you are thankful for.
- Spread the love and challenge five other blogs to take part.
The Five People I’m Most Thankful For
- You, Lily (obviously), my daughter & the light of my life
- Your dad, Ryan, my husband, best friend & the love of my life
- My mother, Raelyn, who has taught me that it’s never too late, if you don’t like how your life is going, to start over
- My dad, Edward, who has taught me that it’s never too late, if you don’t like how your life is going, to start over (You’re not seeing double; I’m grateful to both for the same reason)
- Evie Levine, the first high school English teacher I had who really believed in me, so much so that I’ve used her real name here with the hopes that she might see this.
The Five Things I’m Most Thankful For
Pain is your body’s way of communicating what it needs. I don’t always speak its language, but at least, at this point in my life, I’m learning to listen.
And I’d rather feel pain and be alive than the alternative: being dead, albeit pain-free.
Not having a car until I was in my late-twenties taught me the value of friendships and, when that failed, of my two good feet. One good thing about not owning very much is seeing, to survive, how very little you need.
Of course, when I say “poverty,” I don’t mean “abject.” We’ve always had–and as long as we can work, always will have–a place to stay and the ability to eat.
Money is a metaphor, a piece of paper representing shiny rocks representing value because it’s a myth upon which we, as a society, have collectively conspired to agree.
No matter how little else you might have, you own your mind and your mentality. Whether you believe it or not, you’re the only one with the power to change either of these. When you need that power, use it. As Milton wrote in Paradise Lost,
“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”
If nothing else, that’s something I earnestly believe.
Nothing has taught me the value of life and my place in it like your arrival, Lily. For instance, I now know how much I can accomplish when I have to, even when I’m running on as little, in 24 hours, as 1 hour of sleep.
And more than that, your life has made me look beyond the past and into the future. And that has really helped me enjoy the present!
At least of the figurative variety.
Five Nominated Bloggers
- wordskeepmesane–written by Amy, whose poetry, patience, wisdom and faith I’m grateful for, as I learn so much from them;
- Knotholes & Textures–written by BarbCT, whose blog pays off on the promise to offer “textures” and variety;
- Cathy Lynn Brooks–whose blog never fails to inspire and uplift me;
- No Size Two–written by Nadia, whose approach to fashion and confidence I admire and aspire towards;
- Orchidblue’s Blog–whose music collection and perspectives I covet and treasure
I hope, Lily, when hit hard by your life’s own storms (and not of the figurative piano variety), you’re able to see past the pain to find what you still have going for you in this life. You have so much to be grateful for, not the least of which is having a mother like me! (I’m kidding. Seriously. Don’t hit me!)
- “George Goodwin Kilburne The Piano Lesson 1871” by George Goodwin Kilburne – Bonhams. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:George_Goodwin_Kilburne_The_Piano_Lesson_1871.jpg#/media/File:George_Goodwin_Kilburne_The_Piano_Lesson_1871.jpg