how to find gratitude
Holidays

Finding Gratitude Wherever You Are 

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Thanksgiving, 2001. It is my first winter in New York. It’s just a little over two months after the 9/11 attacks, and the city is still reeling. Workers are continuing to clear the piles of debris at Ground Zero. I’ve been married just over a month, and the sharp chill of a late East Coast autumn, like my new wedding ring, feels novel and unfamiliar. I decide to make a Thanksgiving dinner for me and my new husband. It would be the first time I’ve ever bought a turkey or handled one, and I go to the neighborhood butcher, holding the brown-paper-wrapped bird gingerly as if it were a newborn baby.

I call my mother, who lives on the West Coast, for help on Thanksgiving morning. How long do I cook the turkey for? How many sides should I be making? It feels like I am playing house in a grown-up world. How have I lived this long not knowing how to do anything?

When it comes time to stuff the turkey, I stick my hands in the cavity with more conviction than confidence. I am determined to win this adulting game.

The dinner turns out way better than I expected. It helps that the husband, who has been a bachelor for over three decades, has low expectations and is just happy for a holiday meal. He cleans the kitchen as I relish my culinary victory, drowsy from the tryptophan. I absentmindedly look at my hands and realize, horrifyingly, that I do not have my wedding ring. Did I take it off while I was cooking? I don’t remember doing so. 

My heart feels like it will explode from my chest as I tell my husband my ring is missing. Has he seen it? He looks around the small kitchen, spotless now. It is not anywhere. I cry like an inconsolable child who has lost her favorite toy, the one that meant the world to her.

We keep looking. I see the bag of garbage near the door, which holds the remnants of dinner, including the carcass of the turkey. All of a sudden, my brain sparks. I pull the turkey out of the bag and start to dig. And there it is, a small gold band lodged inside, glistening with congealed fat, nestled amid wilted onions and garlic. It had slipped off my finger when I, unknowingly, was stuffing the bird earlier.

With my heart firmly back in my chest, I breathe and take a moment of gratitude for this first Thanksgiving of married life, mishap and all.

Thanksgiving, 2012. We drive for days and days, leaving behind Hurricane Sandy in New York and hurtling west — through Ohio, Iowa and Colorado, and finally Nevada — chasing the warmer contours of the winter sun. After more than a decade of frigid Thanksgivings cocooned inside our apartment in Brooklyn, we are setting off on a new life, one not so much predicated by a sense of adventure as a sense of obligation. We are taking care of my mother, who is ill. We think this is temporary, that she’ll get better and we will drive back east to our real life, the one we love and built with our 7-year-old son.

There are blessings ahead I cannot foresee — a vaccine, buying a house, starting a new job. But for now, I am grateful to simply be here, and that’s enough.

 

On Thanksgiving Day, I wake up early and get ready for a series of chores, starting with a long-overdue haircut. As the stylist works on my hair, I get a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I barely recognize myself. After more than a decade of cold Novembers back East, here I am wearing a T-shirt and shorts. This breaks something inside me. I start to cry for the life I left behind — my home, the city I loved, the feel of autumn leaves under my feet, my friends, my tiny kitchen where I’ve cooked Thanksgiving for my little family for a decade, with dishes and pies that got better and better every year.

This year, I do not have the energy to make Thanksgiving dinner, and my mother is too ill to eat, besides. After my haircut, I pick up a cooked turkey and sides from a store. Today I am doing the best I can, and a pie from Marie Callender’s takeout window will just have to be good enough.

There are losses ahead I cannot foresee. Still, I am grateful to see my mother eating a spoonful of mashed potatoes, even though she can’t taste it. She takes a bite of apple pie and goes to bed.

Thanksgiving, 2020. No one could have imagined what this year would bring. A raging pandemic has claimed an unfathomable number of lives globally. We are in lockdown, unable to gather with family and friends. My son is 15 now, and this year, he’s spending Thanksgiving with his dad. Since our divorce a few years ago, we switch off major holidays, alternating between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

There is no rush to get to the store to get ingredients for dinner, affording me plenty of time for reflection instead. I think back to that Thanksgiving nearly 20 years ago, recalling that gut-wrenching feeling when I thought I had lost my wedding ring. I’ve experienced much larger losses since — we all have. That’s the cruelty and beauty of life. Like that ring, every single loss feels unrecoverable as it’s happening, but with much digging, sometimes you find a miracle in the detritus.

In the midst of this pandemic, this Thanksgiving I am grateful to have a job and the extraordinary privilege of being able to work from home and help my son with remote schooling. We have been able to stay healthy, and those closest to me are safe as well.

There are blessings ahead I cannot foresee — a vaccine, buying a house, starting a new job. But for now, I am grateful to simply be here, and that’s enough.


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