Thanksgiving is one of those holidays where you can be sure you’ll scroll through your social media platform of choice to find lots of inspirational quotes on pretty backgrounds and a million people thankful for pretty much the same things over and over, which happen to also be things I think most of us take for granted (friends, family, a home, children, health, etc.). And this year it all seemed a bit less genuine than it had before. Why are we only thankful for the things we seem to take for granted?
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful for wonderful friends and an amazing family; I could list pages of reasons why I’m glad they’re in my life. And of course I’m happy to have a decent home and slightly less decent (but not horrible) health. I think it’s wonderful to realize what and who we really cherish, but I think we miss the mark when we just say we are thankful for them and don’t realize why…in that way we are still sort of just taking them for granted. So no, I’m not thankful for my parents; I’m thankful that I’m fortunate enough to have two living parents who are close by and who are able and willing to help me when I’m struggling. This line of thinking made me contemplate what I’m actually thankful for, not just the things I take for granted.
This year I’ve realized I’m actually most thankful for the not-so-great stuff that you won’t find on any Hallmark cards, because these are the things that have truly changed me and allowed me to grow and better myself. These are the rainy days that allow me to appreciate the sun more…and even find the beauty in the rain itself.
I’m thankful I no longer see life as a burden, and I now realize it’s fleeting for all of us whether we’re here for 8 or 108 years. I have spent so much time in the last 37 years wishing for time to speed up, when in reality I just wanted to get past the bad moments quicker. However, I now know the suffering serves it’s purpose, too. Now instead of being miserable through bad times, wishing they would end, my goal is to look for the lesson(s) in them and be thankful I have been given the time I have. As for the good times, I try to cherish those but also remember they won’t last forever either and that’s ok. Every moment I’m given to live this life is a gift and I’m thankful for it.
I’m thankful for the people who were honest with me and told me when I was toxic, and for those who still keep it real with me (in a kind manner) when I slip up. None of us likes to hear we have bad traits, despite all of us knowing we’re not perfect. The hard truth is, though, that until we accept responsibility for our flawed behavior, we will never grow. Like many people, for years when someone told me I was too negative or I was overreacting or had a short fuse I just pushed back with excuses and tried to point out their flaws. It’s difficult to look back and realize you’ve hurt people you love because you were too selfish to accept it. One day, I started actually taking criticisms seriously, examining them to see if they had any real clout and I was devastated and ashamed to realize I was in fact the one who was wrong all along. However, instead of feeling sorry for myself and playing the victim to my own “crimes”, I used the information to grow and change my behavior. I know I can’t change the past but I’m damn proud of the woman who has grown from that rubble, and without the people who were honest with me I may have never realized how toxic my behavior really was.
I’m thankful for losing (and then getting back in touch with) my spiritual self. I’ve never been religious, but always remained open to the ideas of different religions and spiritual paths. Then, for some reason I shifted and started to identify as an atheist. My whole outlook on life became very bleak and I was horribly cynical. However, as a nurse in the critical care environment, I experience many things that can’t be explained by science alone and between those experiences and my reintroduction to Buddhism, I regained my true spiritual self and actually felt stronger than ever spirtually. Had I never lost sight of it, I may have never fully appreciated the impact it has in my life. (**I’m not saying it’s bad to be an atheist, it was just bad for me because of my personality**)
Finally, I’m thankful for the times I hit rock bottom. I have experienced the worst days of my life thus far…and survived them all. I know what I’m capable of enduring, and likely could endure worse (although I hope I never have to). I believe had I not had some pretty rough experiences earlier in my life, the cancer diagnosis and treatment probably would have wrecked me. Instead, I was able to stay strong because I’d been through the worst before and I already carried some of the tools I needed to keep me going. Each time I hit that bottom level I know I can survive it and I know it won’t last forever.
I suppose this entire piece could be summed up by saying I’m thankful for my suffering. Without suffering, I wouldn’t know how strong I am. Without suffering, I wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate happiness. There is no light without the darkness, and once we realize that both are equally important to our growth we can begin to appreciate suffering for what it is and what it gives us.