It’s only recently that I learned how to be grateful.
I grew up learning about gratitude without ever allowing myself to feel it, not on any real level. I would recite prayers with litanies of ‘grateful’ lists immediately followed by a request for forgiveness for my many sins, everything from telling a lie to being gay on the inside. “I’m grateful for my family, and for the gospel of Jesus Christ, and for all the challenges thou givest me to prove my devotion to you, and for all of the many blessings thou hast seen fit to grant me. Please help me be better, be stronger, and not be gay anymore.”
Gratitude means something completely different to me now. It’s not a list of facts. Gratitude now is in the specifics, and it is firmly grounded in the present. I take regular opportunities to be grateful, if not daily then at least every other day, and I try to feel grateful in the moment and not just during times of prayer. Rather than being grateful for sunlight, for example, I take time to feel grateful while feeling sunlight on my skin, and I combine that with gratitude in the temperature of the air and the feel of the ground under my feet and the warmth on and within me and the natural beauty of rolling clouds. I can lose myself in this kind of gratitude, and it is one of my most spiritually building character traits.
And so today is Thanksgiving. And it happens to be my 38th birthday. It is 4 pm as I type this and I’m still in my pajamas. My stomach is far too full of food. I have received hundreds of messages, mostly electronic, from loved ones who care about me. My five year old son is drawing Batman characters in blue ink next to me, and my eight year old son is snoring softly on the couch while he dozes, and my sister is watching soap operas in the next room. My toes are cold and the coffee at my keyboard is steaming hot. Classic Christmas carols are playing on the radio. The sink is filled with unwashed dishes.
It is a beautiful day to be alive. And I am basking, in the moment, in gratitude.
I am thankful, first and foremost, for myself, and this is the place that any gratitude list should start. I am grateful for my big brown eyes, through which I see the world around me and look for adventures. I’m grateful for my strong hands, that support me and do the work that needs to be done. I’m grateful for my spine, twisted though it is with scoliosis, that bears the weight of my body and my experiences. I am grateful for my heart, which finds the best in those around me and puts protections in place to keep me strong and resilient. I am grateful for my feet, which take me to the corners of cities and wildernesses in a spirit of exploration and conquest.
I am thankful for my sons, above all else, who inspire me with laughter and insight, and who give me the greatest ground upon which to stand and see the future from. I am thankful for the generous light in their eyes, the trust they place in me, the space under each arm that they snuggle into during story or movie times, and for the way they constantly inspire me into laughter and joy and meltdowns of inspiration.
I’m grateful for history, for my own and for that of the world, for all of the ugly parts and all of the pretty parts and the way they shape my view of the world. I’m even grateful for history as it happens, even now, and the resolve it leaves me with to make the world a better place. I’m grateful for the human capacity for resiliency, the ability to go through the worst the world has to offer and to still come out stronger on the other side.
I could type for days on the things I’m grateful for, but I’ll conclude with one simple thought: Life is short, and grateful is a much better space to dwell than mopey or bitter or despairing, and I’m grateful to know that too.