On Being Thankful

Well, tomorrow’s Thanksgiving, and, besides football, discarded cranberry sauce, and tryptophan naps in a recliner, an annual American tradition will take place: completely insincere thankfulness.

You know the scene: the extended family will gather, successfully (to some degree) tamping down the dysfunction long enough to occupy a home and share a meal. As the stuffing is passed, Uncle George will comment on how thankful he is that the Cubs had a good team this year. Aunt Gertrude will counter with how thankful and happy she is that her manicurist recovered from gout in time for the holidays, and Grandma Jolene will praise the new choir robes at church. Nephew Jordan won’t be listening, but he’ll be thankful for his new tablet computer.  You’ll probably smile, listen politely, and shake your head. But maybe you’ll also think to yourself, “These people aren’t thankful for any of this stuff.” And, you’d be so, so right.

Many of us (including me) live lives of such comfort, predictability, and plenty that genuine thankfulness is difficult to come by. We like things. We might even love things. We recognize how lucky we are in many respects, but thankfulness requires an emotional elasticity wrought from pain, want, and need that we cannot imagine, much less draw upon. No one will be thankful for oxygen, rocks, or paper plates. We like these things, especially asthmatic geologists at a picnic, but their ubiquitousness precludes being thankful for them.

A handy rule to live by is that you cannot truly be thankful for something unless it has, at some point, driven you to tears. That’s a minimum test. If you’ve faced a serious illness, you can be thankful for your health. If the worst you’ve soldiered through is a cold and raw nose, you cannot be thankful for your health. See the difference?

Am I playing semantics? Am I setting the bar for thankfulness too high? Maybe, but, then again, maybe it’s time we raised the bar just a bit. Our cultural conversations are dominated by reality television shows, the latest social media apps propelled by nothing but our vanity, and  political candidates in a race to the bottom in just about every category, including offensiveness, nuanced ideas, and statesmanship. At some point, don’t we have to ask for more? Could we be asking for any less?

So, tomorrow, as you gather, as you feast, take the opportunity amongst friends and family to name the people, places, and things for which you are genuinely thankful. The things that have touched your life. The things over which you have cried but now rejoice. Not things you like. Not things that make life a little easier. But, rather, the things that are your life, that made you who you are, and that give you hope and strength for tomorrow.

On Falling for Fall

As seasons go, fall gets a bum rap. Winter shines with the holidays, while summer holds the promise of vacations, sunshine, shorts, and warmth. Spring garners its fans by not being winter, as well as promising folks some flowers if they’ll wait out some showers. That leaves us with fall — poor, blustery fall. Drab. The creep of cold.

I’m here to convince you otherwise.

Fall is my favorite season. I love the nip in the air, the falling, colorful leaves, the slowing down to the summer madness. While the leaves and grass may be dying, fall is actually pregnant with possibility. New school year, new football and basketball seasons, and even a new television season usher in with autumn.

Sure, we lose some daylight, but the next time you’re lamenting the loss of light, try this. Come home after work, take a hot shower or bath, change into some comfortable pajamas, make some hot chocolate, sit in a comfortable chair, and, then, do nothing. Seriously, don’t do anything. I’m telling you, no amount of sunshine can beat house shoes, hot chocolate, quiet, and stillness. Throw in a good book, and you’re set for the rest of the evening. Heck, the rest of the week!

Fall is about slowing down, comfort food, and traditions. You can enjoy a warm jacket, having an excuse to use the word “brisk,” and the beginnings of a new school year, whether you’re young or just young at heart. You can also anticipate the start of a run of some awesome holidays. Christmas is laden with pressure, but Halloween is pure fun. Then, if you can’t enjoy Thanksgiving, well, the problem’s with you, not the season. Pass the stuffing, please!

But that’s not all! With fall, you can enjoy the simple pleasure of not being hot and sweaty all the time. Less bugs too! You’ll even get an extra hour of sleep one weekend in the fall, and when, really, do you ever get the extra sleep you so badly need and so richly deserve?

You can date Winter, with her glitzy baubles. You can have a long fling with Summer, with his sultry ways. And maybe you rob the cradle with Spring, with her youthful vitality. But Fall’s the one you marry. Comfortable. Kind. Peaceful. Steady. Even. Interesting, but not dangerous. You bring Fall home to mom and dad, and they approve. Fall’s the one.

So, go ahead. Fall for fall. I did, and I’ve never looked back.