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Gratitude Platitudes; 11/22/2011

posted Nov 22, 2011, 1:58 AM by Kathryn Simpson   [ updated Nov 22, 2011, 2:01 AM ]
November is such a funny month. I like to think of it as the gateway drug to Winter. Almost like a second date with Mother Nature, before she's decided if she's going to be naughty or nice. If she's going to be gentle or wicked. 

Here in America, it wraps up with both an official national holiday (Thanksgiving: http://www.history.com/topics/thanksgiving), and a sort of unofficial one (Black Friday: http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1942935,00.html). Then it launches us into December and the serious business of short days and long nights begins. 

Folks who embrace the official Thanksgiving holiday often spend the month, and Thanksgiving Day specifically, reflecting on the things in their lives for which they are grateful. Family, friends, jobs, health, etcetera. All the things for which we should be grateful each day of the year, but which we often don't take the time to consider. Life is a busy place and if we sat around pondering all the things we should probably really be thankful for, I don't know when we'd find the time to get up and go to work. So November becomes a sort of adjunct drain catch for all the reflections that tend to slip by unacknowledged. Which is pretty great, I guess. Thirty (or 24 or 28 or whatever, depending on where it falls on the calendar) days of recollection and reflection that we often don't do until Something Bad Happens and life flashes before our eyes. Car accidents or sudden health scares or seeing a child fall from some great height do the same thing, but it's usually all in a flash, and less organized. 

I enjoy reading or hearing about the things folks are thankful for. It helps me learn more about my friend's or family member's current life conditions, what their priorities are. It's pretty standard stuff because I think we're all grateful for the same basic elements in our lives. Sometimes, though, someone mentions something that strikes me as unusual and it gives me an opportunity to consider that element's place (if it has one) in my own life. So in the spirit of the holiday, and in honor of working out my Gratitude Muscle, I'll share some of the things that touch my heart every month of the year.


  • I'm grateful I know how to drive a stick shift. I think that's one of those skills that everyone should master, because you never know when it could come in handy. Like typing, starting a fire or sewing on a button. It may seem like frustrating drudgery when you're learning it, but it's something you never forget afterwards. 
  • I am thankful that America is still a nation of immigrants. My ancestors came here from somewhere else, many generations ago, and if--with all our flaws and infighting--this nation is still considered a place to go when you want the chance for something better than you currently have...well, that's pretty awesome. 
  • House plants. Or any plant, really. Not much gives me more joy than watching a new leaf sprout or flower bud on any photosynthetic life form. Philodendron; desert or Christmas cacti; tulip poplar; fiddlehead fern.... It doesn't matter. Plants set such a great example! The stubborn refusal to simply lay still or to cease growth, plants are made of that. They function on an entirely different schedule than animal life, and it is we, not they, that are the alien life form on the globe. They were here first. We just barged in and started stepping on and around them. But you'll note they have not thrown in the towel. In "The Poisonwood Bible" Barbara Kingsolver writes: 
"Every space is filled with life.... And in reply, a choir of seedlings arching their necks out of rotted tree stumps, sucking life out of death. The forest eats itself and lives forever." 

Which is beautiful and true and a bit intimidating. But it's just how they've survived for eons. Adaptability. Reaching to an energy source. Resting when necessary but always maintaining some sort of motion. I should be so effective in my own development.
  • Literacy. Possibly the single most important thing a human can learn. If you can read and write, your options for surviving on the planet are vastly improved. Your marketability skyrockets. Your ability to learn becomes something you take for granted until it's tested by a new set of circumstances. And then you might doubt your ability to adapt, but why? You've already accomplished so much! Especially if you've learned to read and write English (or American, specifically). It's not scholastically considered the most challenging language to master (see http://mylanguages.org/difficult_languages.php for one opinion), but I'm willing to bet the combination of our grammar, slang and verb tenses only seems fairly straightforward to people who've grown up on it. Most importantly, if you are literate you have afforded yourself the opportunity of escape. Whether you want to read music, poems, technical manuals or fiction...you can take yourself away and give reality the finger. Even if just for a few minutes. Your options for survival improve. 
  • I am grateful for indoor plumbing. I don't think I need to elaborate, especially since Chicago is in for a hard winter. http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/worst-of-winter-20112012-aimed/55995
And you know, I'm thankful for all the normal person stuff. My family. My friends. The people I've lost and the ones I haven't met yet. Everyone's health and the right to vote. My job. Music.

And don't forget the chocolate. 

I am really thankful for chocolate. 

Happy November, everyone. Safe travels to all. 

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