Wednesday, November 4, 2015

On giving thanks and gratitude

monarch butterfly in a Minnesota driveway
monarch butterfly in a Minnesota driveway
Photo by J. Harrington

Today I'm grateful for the announcement that the first wave?, flock? flight? of monarch butterflies are arriving in Mexico (scroll down on the linked page). That helped me shake off the mood I've picked up from our gloomy, overcast, unseasonably warm weather. I'm not wishing for cold, just sunshine.

goldfinch and nuthatch at feeder
goldfinch and nuthatch at feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

The birds, chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinches and bluejays, have been piling in to the sunflower feeders as if they expected a major storm. The woodpeckers, red-bellied, downy and hairy, have discovered the suet I set out late last week. That seems to have gone onto whatever they have as a list of things for which they're grateful. Given their size overall, I suspect that birds have small hearts. I wonder if they manage to emulate Piglet.
“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”
– A.A. Milne in Winnie-the-Pooh
I won't even try to speak for anyone but myself on this, but I spend too much time and effort focused on what I don't have and how to get it, rather than on what I do have and how to enjoy it. It's past time for me to follow the advice of a fellow New Englander:
“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph's phrasing isn't quite as memorable as Roger Miller's in the eponymous song
"Ya can't roller skate in a buffalo herd
But you can be happy if you've a mind to"
but they both get at pretty much the same thing. I find it much easier to be happy if I've a mind to appreciate what (and who) I have in my life.

There Is No Word

By Tony Hoagland 
There isn’t a word for walking out of the grocery store
with a gallon jug of milk in a plastic sack
that should have been bagged in double layers

—so that before you are even out the door
you feel the weight of the jug dragging
the bag down, stretching the thin

plastic handles longer and longer
and you know it’s only a matter of time until
bottom suddenly splits.

There is no single, unimpeachable word
for that vague sensation of something
moving away from you

as it exceeds its elastic capacity        
—which is too bad, because that is the word
I would like to use to describe standing on the street

chatting with an old friend
as the awareness grows in me that he is
no longer a friend, but only an acquaintance,

a person with whom I never made the effort—
until this moment, when as we say goodbye
I think we share a feeling of relief,  

a recognition that we have reached
the end of a pretense,   
though to tell the truth

what I already am thinking about
is my gratitude for language—
how it will stretch just so much and no farther;

how there are some holes it will not cover up;
how it will move, if not inside, then
around the circumference of almost anything—

how, over the years, it has given me
back all the hours and days, all the
plodding love and faith, all the

misunderstandings and secrets
I have willingly poured into it.


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