"Gratitude seems more complex this year," I say to myself, as I wonder again about Thanksgiving at home in a pandemic.
I keep saying it over and over this week, "Gratitude is so complex." I say it when I wrestle with the immense gift, privilege, and responsibility of having food in the house right now. I say it again when I'm incredibly thankful Biden and Harris won this election while I also feel the pain and frustration of so many people who are not. There's so much underneath what's going on-- at the core, we're all hurting in some way or another that politics alone will never solve.
Gratitude can't be simple or trite as I witness the bone-deep grief and loss families are facing around the world, down the street, or reading this post. At the very same time, I am still thankful head to toe for the relative safety of my family so far. My brother likely had COVID19 early on when there weren't enough tests. Although he's recovered, it was absolutely horrible to feel so helpless and far away when he was so sick. So, so scary. My wife's chronic illness adds another layer in our story of coronavirus. Thankfully, Hol doesn't have COVID19, but we have to be crazy careful for her safety, now more than ever. For 8 years she's lived with an illness so similar to long-hauler COVID that the experts believe they're likely the same thing. She means the world to me, plus a whole sky of stars! So it's a mixed blessing to celebrate those days she feels better while still suffering. Gratitude seems more and more complex.
This morning, my dear, amazing friend and nurse, Lucy, posted a photo of herself in full triage gear. She asked us all to wear masks, wash hands, stay home and stay safe. I burst out in tears and all kinds of complex feelings. Part of me wants her to hide at home with her beautiful children and husband, tucked away from the virus and the risk she faces on every shift. And part of me swells with love and admiration to know this gorgeous human being who serves with her heart and healing gifts. I'm inspired and uplifted. We can never thank her and her precious family enough. And, I am dismayed and angry that we even need to thank Lucy for working in this much danger.
Let's do what we can to earn Lucy's gratitude by staying out of hospitals this holiday season. Thank you.
It occurs to me that gratitude and life itself have probably always been this complex, whether in or out of crises. Maybe it's inevitable to feel overwhelmed by the vastness of pain and sorrow adjacent to soaring appreciation and awe. Just now as I sit with so many strong opposites, subtle nuances, both/and situations, and longings, I find myself wanting to be open, allowing it all. Some days I am NOT AT ALL open, and that's ok too! Sometimes there are good reasons to stay snugged up and closed for a while. But right now, I imagine my chest and heart welcoming this messy jumble of what giving thanks means this year. It feels bigger, richer, and more true to confess the complexity and, ironically, to be grateful for it. It feels alive.
Poets have a knack for making heart-space to hold big, complicated, meaningful stuff. Right after I read Lucy's post, Hol played a poem from her Twitter feed. It was written and performed by Hakim Bellamy, the wonderful former Poet Laureate of Albuquerque, New Mexico. He offers his gratitude for every nurse and their heroic, human service. I sent the poem to Lucy right then and there, since I hardly knew what else to say... I was glad to borrow the poem's thanks in words that were strong and soft, sorrowful and honoring, clear and complicated.
If you have a moment to watch, Hakim tells his powerful poem, "Nursing School (AKA I Can't Thank You Enough)" in the video below. In my favorite lines, he says:
If you can, share your own version of thanks with a nurse or with someone else who is your life support.
Our gratitude is complicated this year-- as it's always been. Thank goodness we're here for it, for now.
Opening my heart again, I offer my deep, timid, inspired, sad, messy, grateful love. Here's heartbroken praise for the lives of every single one we've lost. Here's tearful relief for those who've come through. Here's my grateful ache for our roads of recovery. We have so much work, healing, and caring yet to do.
I give my complex thanks.