Thoughts on Thankfulness

“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.” John Milton

I have found that the antidote to most things is gratitude. That is why I love Thanksgiving more than any other holiday, as the loveliest reminder. This year especially, I’m really all in.

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I love searching for new pie recipes–this time I might try acorn squash, or sweet potato with chocolate sesame crust (thanks, Bon Appetit); running in the cold morning air at the nearest ‘Turkey Trot’ (this goes a long way in enjoying an extra slice or two of said homemade pies); winding up 71 north, the most boring drive but with the best company (B, and some kind of jazz playing, or a favorite This American Life episode), to celebrate with my big loud amazing extended family in Cleveland. I love catching up with sweet cousins; stopping at our grandparents’ on the way home again, for, well, more pie. I love hosting a tiny Thanksgiving (with a tiny turkey, too, in a feast my husband curates weeks ahead of time) on Friday, with family here in Columbus; sipping red wine with B’s grandfather (he’s giddy after half a glass–it’s my favorite); filling the house with scents of cedar and orange and rosemary, making everything spick and span and covering the table with a goldenrod cloth and shimmering plates and dried flowers from the farmers’ market. I have even come to love shopping Friday morning, ever since we compromised by sleeping in a little, and going absolutely nowhere without hot coffees in hand. I love hunting for our tree sometime over the weekend, dog(s) in tow; it’s usually drizzly and frigid but we hold out for the perfect one anyway, then head home muddy and happy. I love the sometimes serene cold blue skies and the last of the leaves clinging to branches, crackling on the breeze. I love picking up Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory, because it’s the one holiday story I reread every year, religiously, and I cry every.single.time.

And I love the narrative I’m weaving in my head, noticing every beautiful thing before me, reflecting on what changes in a year, what doesn’t–all I am grateful for now, and always.

These are the simple traditions, the rituals that make the cyclical celebrations recognizable to me. They are the lovely vehicles for recognizing ourselves and each other in the story, in the middle of things where we dwell. They bring us together, and gift us tangible ways to mark time, to savor shared histories and hopes.

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But of course they are always changing, too. Some aspects are sustained, like slides in an old carousel, the kind my grandfather once showed us, all the aunts and uncles freckled and wild as kids. In my grandmother’s house, I still sit at the kids’ table most years, though I’m nearly twenty-eight, and I still love every minute of it. I still string cranberry garland for the tree, with dental floss and sewing needles. In Ohio, the tress still show up gold and beaming. And I still watch You’ve Got Mail and Little Women every year with a kind of reverence.

The narrative keeps going, too: the faces around the table change, fade, grow. Our rituals evolve. Sisters get married; we move to new homes, play the same songs on the same old out-of-tune piano in new spaces. Sometimes, the change is hard, unwelcome, sorrowful. What we had hoped for has not come, and the yearly reminders seem unkind. Or the broken parts feel more poignant against the backdrop of holiday nostalgia and childhood memories, when families and plans and relationships were simpler, in real and imagined ways.

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And so I have to agree with Shauna Niequist when she says that “gratitude is a way of life, a practice as opposed to a feeling.” Because I think what matters most is that the narrative is intentionally continued, evolving and changing but ever present. We have to choose it, to live it.

Thankfully, there are as many ways to live out gratitude as there are ways of being, as there are stars in the November sky. It mostly comes down to being attentive to people and this world and seeing the hope and beauty in each. Every year we try and get better at it, I think, and for that I’m so deeply, truly grateful.

Here’s to reveling in that gratitude however we can and however we choose, together.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Emily Jean



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