The List

Today, all across our country, people will pause in their pursuit of More, and give thanks for what they Have. It’s beautiful, this rare bird of gratitude. It is what keeps us going through the holidays, when we are surrounded by our favorite people, and those with whom we feel less than fortunate to share matching strands of DNA. Gratitude is the sun that warms our hearts as we drive on through the sloggy gray of winter’s bitter winds, surrounded on both sides by dirty snow berms. Those aren’t here yet, but they’re coming. And gratitude is one of the only insurance policies against them.

Year after year, I find that taking one whole day to give thanks, is the antidote I need. It saves me from the poison of always wanting more, frees me from online shopping for another gilded cage.

In our family, we take this day seriously. We spend hours coming up with our individual lists. We discuss at length the things we are most grateful for. We are almost militant in our mindfulness, marching towards the promised land of softened hearts and seeing eyes. My husband and I act as Sherpas, guiding our children away from the perilous cliffs of insatiable wants, over the crags of covetousness, and back towards the safety of  Enough. This is where the wildflowers bloom. This is where the magic happens. And it does happen, every time.

So, before today’s canvas is covered even a bit by wrangling my tiny humans, or prepping once a year dishes, or decorating the table we will all sit around as we bow our heads in humility, I will leave part of my list here. Just the top five, because there is so much more, and if I attempt to list them all here, I will sound so ridiculous that none of my friends who read this will ever let me vent to them again. Which, actually, might not be the worst thing.

(Part of) What I am most thankful for, in mostly random order:

  1. My People. I swear to you that I am surrounded by the best people this world has to offer. People who do, and love, who live lives of beauty and sacrifice, who have the courage to keep their hands outstretched as they give. The people I know risk daily in order to create a place worth fighting for. They shelter the broken, feed the poor, create art that makes my soul sigh in agreement, and know the power of keeping their word. They dream and create, and make this world a better place, but they aren’t too proud to get out the dustpan and help sweep the dross away. (Why do I always end up rhyming? I don’t mean to, I promise. Well, onward, anyway.)
  2. My Husband. I have a man that actually loves me. The real me, in all of its ugly, in all of its glory. My husband works hard, is a great provider, and trusts me. He loves me equally with and without makeup, whether I go to the gym, or my hips wear the telltale signs of too many donuts. He loves me. Me! And still rushes to show me, in the most endearing little boy/best friend way, the songs that he writes, and gets nervous as he positions his guitar and begins to play them. Be still, my heart. Be still.
  3. My Children. My Fabulous Five. The endgame to my selfishness, and the symphonic finale to my pride. I don’t know how on earth I was entrusted with these perfect little humans. But somehow, through some cosmic grace loophole, they are mine. My boy, so quickly becoming a young man. He, who broke the mold on my too small Grinch-like heart, making room for him, and the sisters who came afterward. My four girls. My compass of little women, my north, south, east, and west, of charm. They fill my life with goodness, and balance all the black in my wardrobe with vibrant pink and purple everything. These five people, are everything worth knowing about me. They hold all of my hopes, all of my tryings, and my very best dreams. They are the people I most believe in. I am humbled by being chosen to raise them.
  4. My family. Or families, I mean, as I have the one I was born into, and the ones I have been welcomed into along the way. I have no shortage of sisters, of brothers, of fathers, and mothers. My children have more aunts and uncles than they can keep count. With one phone call, I can conjure the past. With one visit, I can have peace about the future. It is a gift, this wide web of people who believe in me, who see me, and don’t look away. People who trust me with their family recipes, and who let me be a part of their history.
  5. My Friends. The net under all of my tight wires. The holders of my secrets, and trembling hands. The ones who suit up in armor, and fight for me daily. They are veterans of a foreign war, a land they didn’t have to defend, and yet, they did. My friends are what allow my lungs to remain open, so that I can breathe again. They are the girls nights, and game nights, the painting, the wine, they are the shopping trips whether I need something, or just to fill a void. They are the adult slumber party that lets me giggle through the night. My friends are my counselors, my confidantes, and the tethers that keeps me from drifting too far to the left or  to the right.

It’s funny, you know. As I was writing that, that none of the things that I spend so much time buying and striving for, came out first. No material possessions even made the list. And maybe that’s what I needed to remember today. Maybe that’s what we all need to remember. That it is people who most matter. People, and their hearts.

Wherever you are today, and with whomever you go, I hope you see how blessed you are. I hope you are filled to the brim with gratitude. That you feel hope, the cousin of thankfulness, fill your soul, even fuller than you fill your plate.  And I hope you know, that I am so, so very thankful for you. Yes, you.

 

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Dear Soldier

I am not vain enough to believe that I can comprehend what you are going through, to think that I understand what you have faced. But I am grateful. It is not beyond me to know that while I am sitting comfortably in the safety of my living room, you are facing danger. While my children’s sweet voices pour through the house, rising and falling with their game of make believe, you are listening to a very different soundtrack, with much higher stakes.

I cannot imagine all the ways that your life requires you to show discipline. All of the things that you have had to refrain from in order protect our great nation. I cannot fathom how much time and work you have put into disciplining your body, your emotions, and your mind, in order to stay strong enough to complete the tasks you have been assigned, and to go on afterwards. Your dedication humbles me.

I do not know how many friends you have lost, or what all has been taken from you, in your single-minded pursuit to protect our freedom. I don’t know how many tears you have cried, or the ways that you have been hurt, outside and inside. I don’t know the loneliness that comes with being sent to new locations, with new people, and new regulations, at any given moment. I don’t know the feeling of walking on foreign lands in blistering boots, under a too-hot sun, with eyes narrowing at your presence. Nor how it feels to have to distinguish between “civilian” and “combative” at every turn. I can only imagine.

I, who have a hard time letting go of everything, cannot understand how it feels to have the hardest, darkest, days of your life replay over and over in your mind, even once your feet are back on the safety of American soil. It is too small, and too trite, but I just want you to know that I am so sorry for what you have seen. So sorry for what you have had to learn, and for what you can never un-know.

I don’t know why you decided to become a soldier. I don’t know if you have always been brave, or if you acquired that character trait later. I don’t know if you burned with a love for this country from a young age, or if the military was your means of getting an education. I don’t know if you have people who hold signs for you when you come home, or if you press on, alone, through the throngs of people waiting for someone. But I hope you are safe.

I hope you are well. I hope that you are healthy, and safe from harm. I hope that you see yourself as noble, and heroic, and as important as you are. While I cannot imagine having to do the things that you have done, I cannot imagine a world where you don’t exist. Your courage and bravery have forever changed the face of this earth. Whether young or old, struggling or thriving, you matter, to all of us. Maybe more than you know.

Maybe we forgot to tell you. Maybe we looked at you, without really seeing. I’m sorry for that, I really am. Maybe your war was disputed, and you were blamed for following orders. Or maybe your own war is being fought from within. Either way, you are brave, and worth fighting for. And also, worth thanking.

Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for your heart. Thank you for risking your life. Thank you for being willing to give your all. Thank you for not giving up, even when you want to shake with fear. Thank you for doing the hardest things, for protecting my children from unimaginable horrors. Thank you for your trainings, and your sleepless nights, your struggling through the muck of terror, and hunger pangs, and very real threats. Thank you for bringing honor to our country, and making your uniform a noble thing.

Thank you for what you do, and what you have done. For the stories you tell, and for the things you spare us from. I hope that you know, that you aren’t fighting alone. That you have our support, and that there are people who appreciate what you’ve done. That even though we aren’t all able to do what you do, that we are keeping the home-fires burning for you, in our own way, to give you a country worth fighting for. That we are raising our children to be grateful for you, to show kindness, and honor, and to live lives they are proud of. That we are disciplining ourselves with gratitude, being gentler, and more willing to listen, because of you. That we are working hard to give you a place worth coming home to.

And I hope you do, come home, I mean. And I hope that it feels that way for you. That you are buoyed by the support we feel towards you. That you are able to look around, and be proud, and that you know we are so proud of you, too.

To all American soldiers, past, present, and future, thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Who I’m Voting For

I am not a political person. At least, that’s what I tell myself. I, who have hard and fast opinions on everything from how to properly raise children to how to arrange the types of sweetener in the little plastic containers on restaurant tables. I consider it one of the greatest pieces of evidence that we in America are blessed beyond measure that we have the time and ability to know exactly how we like things, and how we don’t. On any given day, you can order a steak in a hundred different ways, and get it.

Politics are not like that. People are not like that. I have yet to be served all the options I checked on my ballot/ political menu. And many of the servers, I find, have not earned their abundance of tips. But we go on paying anyway, and often find ourselves eating the dessert that they recommended, even if it gives us a stomach ache.

I have, that I can recall, never posted anything political on Facebook. At least, nothing leaning to the left or to the right, and certainly nothing that I think of as tearing down this beautiful country that we live in. I love America, selfishly, like a spoiled teenager who has been given much, but has finally started to settle into the appreciation that comes with maturity. I am not blind to its failings, and while injustice breaks my heart, I find that there is so much hope here that the cracks are able to heal themselves, or at least form scars. There are bad people, evil people, but you guys, there are so many good people, so many good things.

America is full of beauty and diversity, courage, strength, and heroism. We are a nation of immigrants, a tapestry woven together with glimmering threads of hope from far away lands. We are a colorful people, a rainbow of hope filled faces. We are dreamers and doers, we are laborers and artists. We are a people of hope. A country whose courage has not been extinguished. We, individually, go about things in very different ways, but we are all hoping to leave this place better than we found it. All striving to make it a place of Yes for our children, a land fertile with promise for our children’s children.

It’s not that I don’t have strong feelings. It’s not that I don’t want to influence the world in one way or another. It’s that every time I get tempted to post something that puts down one candidate, or exposes their awfulness, I remember that they are just one person. Just one, and I know hundreds of people who believe in them. Or who are hanging their hat on that persons ability to change the country just a little bit more in a way that makes them feel safe. Or that makes room for their family.

I voted. I did. And I didn’t write in Pat Benatar, either. Even though, love really is a battlefield. Sometimes.

I colored that little oval in like it was the first day of kindergarten and I was trying to impress my new teacher, so carefully. It felt dangerous. It felt momentous. It felt like writing a check to 100 years of women suffragists, from my own bank account. But it didn’t feel like enough. Because it isn’t.

Tonight they will announce who our next President will be, and it won’t be someone that I absolutely believe in. It won’t be someone who shares my vision for America, not really. But, I won’t lose hope. I won’t give up. I won’t quit believing in my country. I am not looking at our next leader to fix what is broken in our great nation, because they can’t. Only we can.

We can. I know it. We can be kind. We can ask first, and lead with questions that enable discussion, instead of judgements. We can define men and women by “the content of their character, instead of the color of their skin.” We can be nice to each other. We can disagree, and still listen. We can hold up the hurting, and help the poor. We can mother the motherless, and father the fatherless. We can weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice. We can build up the broken, and we can walk with the lost. We can do it, you guys, because it matters.

Tonight someone will give a victory speech, and someone will concede. But we can all overcome. We can all be better. We can all try harder.

Tomorrow will feel different, for all of us. January will see moving trucks at the White House, again. But we can still come together. We can still hug tighter and hold longer. We can sing sweeter, and soften the sharp edges of our tones when we speak to each other. And we can look up, past the political signs, and see into the eyes of the people holding them.

People, all people, matter. Regardless of who wins tonight, I hope we don’t lose sight of that.