I’m a writer, so I tend to take my words pretty seriously. That’s why I want to issue a gentle-but-urgent warning about some of the words we tend to bandy about during this season of thanksgiving and holiday cheer – words like gratitude, hope and love.
These are healing, heart-warming words to be sure, and to feel them rolling off one’s lips certainly feels noble and lofty, but here’s the thing: If we allow them to remain just words – if we don’t take the responsibility for transforming them from words into action – we’ve effectively rendered them inert.
By that I mean this: I can write about the goodness and glory of gratitude until the cows come home (and what better a day to write about gratitude than Thanksgiving Day, right?), but unless I get up from my keyboard, walk away from my desk and push myself straight out into the world to purposefully practice gratitude, then I’m giving my own gratitude short shrift. Don’t get me wrong: The writing of the words is fine – essential, even – but I also need to put my gratitude into motion.
I need to make it move.
I need your light, and you need mine
I don’t have the time or the luxury to render my gratitude inert. After the year we’ve all been through, the collective act of giving thanks must be bold and audacious. Loud and raucous and bright. I must switch my gratitude on like a lamp so that other folks can feel its warmth and be illuminated by its light, and I need my brethren to do the same for me. Sure, I’ll shine my light … but I need your light, too. And don’t just speak the words; shower me with the acts. Lord knows we’ve stood in the darkness long enough. We all need this light.
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I feel like I need to shout about my gratitude today, to say “thank you” for a few things in particular that helped me survive this almost unsurvivable year. Here are a couple of things that really seeped down into the deepest crevices of my gratitude this year:
I am grateful for the vaccine. I am profoundly grateful to the medical and scientific community for developing the COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine saves lives. Period. How have I propelled my gratitude into action? By getting the vaccine, by getting the booster, by continuing to wear my mask in public places and practicing caution, and by recognizing that this pandemic is nowhere near finished with us yet. I’m also grateful for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent announcement that the booster is now authorized for all adults. On this day, I give a shout-out to science.
I am grateful for my grief. I need to explain this one. I have lost many friends this year. I will never see them again or laugh at their jokes or look into their eyes. That I miss them with such ferocity is proof positive that our bond was strong; the depth of my grief over these broken bonds is commensurate with the level of my love for them. I know this grief will pass and what will remain is pure love, but I choose to let this grief sit with me for a moment. Nope, I won’t let it paralyze me, but yes indeed, I will honor its momentary existence.
I think of my close friend Mary, who died a few months ago at the age of 101. I am grateful for her long life and grateful, even, to miss her as fiercely as I do. How will I push my gratitude into action? By spreading her wisdom, by sharing her stories, and by keeping my connection to her surviving loved ones strong and alive. (Mary was a writer, too. Shortly after her death, I gathered together a group of writers, via Zoom, so that we could read her writing aloud. In this way, her written words took on new life. Gratitude in action.)
On this Thanksgiving morning, I will hold my photo from “Mary D’s” 100th birthday party. I will take it out of the frame and run my finger across her beautiful face. I will smile at the sight of the pink “100” tiara I placed in her silver hair that day. And I will reach out to her family to share Mary memories.
What my mother taught me
I am grateful for the extraordinary beauty of the ordinary. On this Thanksgiving Day and every day hereafter, I will continue to seek (and find) the extraordinary beauty in ordinary things. My mama taught me this. She taught me how to train my own brain to find as much beauty in a plain brown sparrow dancing in the dust as I find in the glorious, preening peacock strutting in the sun. They are blessings of equal proportion.
On this day, I will feel as much gratitude for this plain old glass of water on my dinner table as I will feel for the miraculous sweet potato pie that will (hopefully) be making its way down to me in a matter of hours. A grateful heart is constantly grateful. If you’re grateful for everything – always – you don’t leave anything out.
My mother is gone, but the way she taught me to express my gratitude is alive and bright. I must be actively grateful for everything. Even the mundane is miraculous.
I am grateful to be alive. Several times throughout each and every day, I create a purposeful pause, a complete cessation of activity. In this stillness, I place my hand over my heart, just to feel its steady beat. I am grateful for my toes that can wiggle and my pulse that can, well, pulsate. I am grateful for this life and this light within me.
I cannot, will not, let this light remain stifled and stuck inside of me. I must reach in and push it out, like spreading butter on a dinner roll. (Ah, I can still smell the smell and taste the taste of my grandmother’s home-baked dinner rolls!)
Digging into the deepest crevices of our gratitude requires purposeful intention. A simple act. A kind gesture. A purposeful pause. As you sit down to dinner this evening, push yourself beyond the word “gratitude.” Propel the word out into the world with your deeds, your thoughts and your behavior – because that’s where gratitude truly lives.
Gratitude lives within the act itself.
Kristin Clark Taylor is an author, editor and journalist. She is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.