It is the week of Thanksgiving, which means many things to many people. For some, it is a dreaded week of hectic schedules, preparations, and stressful social events. For some, it’s packed with school activities and projects, the promise of a few days off being the carrot at the end of the stick. For others, it’s a time to look forward to, to remember blessings, and to gather with family and friends. For still others, this week means none of those things, and some much sadder things besides.
A few years ago, I was living in England when Thanksgiving rolled around. It was the first time I’d been outside of the States during that time, and it was also the first time that I’d celebrated a holiday like that without my family. I thought it would feel lonely, less festive, or less bright. Instead, I found that there was still much to be thankful for, and that attitude is what makes this week seem brighter. My sister and I, along with a wonderful old friend who was also studying at Oxford at that time, gathered over a meal of cheese fondue sent from home, bread, and fruit. It was simple. It was lovely. And it was then that I realized what the heart of this season is for me.
One tradition that I always make time for this season, whether I’m at home or abroad, whether there’s turkey or not, is sitting down and making a list of what I’m thankful for. I usually keep it confined to a certain page length, since I could probably fill every spare piece of paper and book margin in the house with this list. Just sitting here at my desk, I can think of dozens.
There are two postcards, omiyage, from different friends who visited Japan this year and thought of me while they were there. I’m thankful for that.
A few watercolor pieces are pinned to the board above my desk, the work of a several nights’ lessons with an artist whose work I’ve always admired, several nights of great conversation and tasty treats that she makes. I’m thankful for all of that.
Nearby, I see a birthday card with a witty pun collaged with two others from a friend who lives in another state. I think about snail mail, friends, and ways we can keep in touch, and I’m thankful for that and for them.
My desk itself was a gift from my parents, who knew I would need a good workspace, and who believe in what I imagine the future could be. I’m thankful for this space and their understanding.
But these kinds of thankfulness are easy—not always easy to remember, to not take for granted, but easy to be thankful for. It’s not difficult to be thankful for the feeling of being loved, for being remembered, for gifts. What is much harder, but no less life-giving, is to be thankful for things that are not an easy matter to be thankful for. And for that thankfulness to be sincere, not just a dim attempt at cheering ourselves up.
If I take the call of my faith to be thankful in all things, in all circumstances, seriously, then I should consider a few things that usually don’t make the list. Sitting here at my desk, I look at the same scene.
There is a stack of papers on my desk, representing hours, months I’ve spent researching agents and journals to send my writing to. Over one hundred rejections. Empty spaces where I didn’t receive any response at all. I have to be thankful for that, too. How? Trust me, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. I am thankful for the experience of rejection. It’s made me learn how to handle disappointment. After all, for a writer, rejection is always a close, if not well-liked, companion. It’s made me learn the business of publishing and writing. It’s driven me to continue reading in my chosen genre to learn firsthand what is good and what is not. It’s made me learn how to drag myself up and run on when so many people say to give up.
My office is filled with furniture and other loose objects from the basement, a place where I’ve spent months this year, stripping wallpaper, patching walls, hanging drywall, sanding, painting, sorting, cleaning. It is a project that is still not finished. Drywall I thought could be saved had to be torn out and redone. Seams had to be re-taped, covered in joint compound, and re-sanded. The house shifted and split open every single crack in the old drywall I had spent hours repairing. More joint compound had to be applied, more texture sprayed, primer and paint redone. I’m thankful for the work that I’ve had to do over. Why? Because it presented me with a choice to throw my tools across the room or get over my own frustration and get the work finished, even if it takes a few tears. It reminded me that that’s part of who I am—I finish what I start, and within my ability, I finish it well.
Next to me is a pile of papers covered in my handwriting, arrows, and notes, an outline of my new novel. It reminds me of how hard it was to start again, worrying if it would come together, if I really could write more than one book, if I had anything worth saying. It reminds me that I had planned to have much more of it written by this point. It asks me if it’s worth the time, the work, the effort. I have to be thankful for projects that take a long time. How? Because as the time has gone by, I still think that the stories that I want to tell should be read. If anything, my desire to share my words has only grown more fierce. I’ve had to learn a patience that I did not know, the patience of the unknown. A patience for active waiting.
Like the things that usually make it onto our list of things to be thankful for, these harder things are difficult to keep in mind at all times. We forget to be grateful, even for kindness or small blessings like making it home at the end of the day. We forget good lessons and hard ones alike. That’s why it’s important to take the time to remember them, for example, during a week like this one. And remember, too, that while we often think of being thankful as being the same as “glad,” or even “happy,” it is not always the case. To be thankful, according to another old friend, Webster, is to be conscious of a benefit received. That awareness might make you laugh, it might pull you to your feet, it might quietly whisper keep going, it might tell you a truth you didn’t know.
There are reminders all around you. I hope you take some time to think about how you’ve been blessed, and I hope that you all have a wonderful holiday. I’m thankful for all of my readers, too!