Saturday, April 27, 2013

The "All Things Considered" of Gratitude

The past two Novembers, Ada received an assignment at school to make a poster-sized picture of a tree. She was to cut leaves out of paper and use them to record the things for which she was thankful. It was a month-long assignment, meant to get her thinking about all the wonderful people and things in her life.

Last November Ian and Mira participated in the creation of the "Thankful Tree" along with Ada, Chris and myself. Ada wrote things like family and writing, while Mira offered "silence" and "peanut butter and jelly sandwiches" and Ian expressed gratitude for clouds and milk. I declared my appreciation for my husband and warm socks.

When we got together at Thanksgiving we got Chris' parents, sister-in-law, uncle and cousin to contribute leaves . It was a great thing to do, especially at a time when Chris' dad's health continued to decline and we all knew it was likely that this would be his last Thanksgiving.

Thankful tree, with more foliage
Ada, showing some of the progress on the 2012 Thankful Tree

At the start of this year, Chris and I instituted a weekly observance of shabbat (Jewish sabbath) at our house. On Friday afternoons I pick up a loaf of challah on the way home, along with whatever groceries we need to round out our end-of-week supplies. We make dinner (and yes, occasionally get take-out), light the candles, mangle the Hebrew prayers and happily devour the challah while each saying what we've got to be happy about that week. Most weeks we invite friends over. Once I decided that the dinner could be low key (pesto with sausage, store roasted chicken, make your own burritos...) the barrier to inviting people over was removed and we reached out to close friends we do not see enough, neighbors we are always happy to see, and other people with whom we'd like to spend time as families. These families, mostly not Jewish nor religious at all, have participated in our observances and added to them as we talk about children, the news, jobs and the other stuff that fills our days.

A few weeks ago it occurred to me that I should be writing down the words of thanks, recording them in order to make more concrete our momentary appreciations. I bought a notebook in which to record the thoughts, but decided I would also like to record them here. We'll see how that goes, but I'll start today by sharing what people said the past couple of weeks.

One last thing. My family and I have so many things to be thankful for. Over the years I have joked about my charmed life, but in so many ways it is true. We are so lucky and have so much. My hope is not that any one week will let us express all the things we are happy about, but that over the weeks and years we will express so many things, that we will start to see the pieces together form the web of our lives. I think of it a little like the NPR program "All Things Considered" - no one show does address everything, but over time they report on so many things that the listener gets a view of the vastness of the universe. Never a complete picture, but an ongoing attempt to fill it all in.

** * ** * ** 

Now that we've been doing this for a while, one the kids usually spontaneously starts to talk. If no one does, I prompt them by asking: "what are you thankful for this week?" Here's what I have gotten recently:

APRIL 20, 2013
Mira: Mommy, Ada, Ian and Daddy.

Ian: My house.

Ada: My friends in the play.

Chris: That my students and colleagues are safe.

Nora: To have such a wonderful, loud family.

APRIL 26, 2013

This week Ada had been invited to spend the evening with our neighbor friends Lila and Lucy. The girls decided to join in the shabbat activity (most importantly to them, the eating of challah!) before they went down the street. Our sitter was still over, and Chris was not yet back from his department BBQ.

Ian: My family.

Mira: Mommy and Ada and Lucy and Lila.

Lila, age 7: Michelle.*

Ada: Lila, Lucy, Gabby, movie and ice cream.

Lucy, age 5: Ian and Mira and Gabby, and Lila and Ada and Mr. Kurt and Miss Marissa.** And Nora and Chris.

Ian (again): Ada and Mira and Gabby and Lila and Lucy and ice cream. And Mommy and Daddy and ice cream.

Ada (again): And Michelle.

Gabby: All my kiddos and sunshine and good health.

Nora: That I got to walk Ada and Lila to school today.

*Ada and Lila's teacher for the past two years.
**Lucy's teachers for the past three years.

This week's view, at the end of my first 11 mile run. Celebrating with pork ramen from #bokebowl #runningalone
I also continue to be thankful that I live in this wonderful city. 
And that my knees didn't fall off when I ran 11 miles today.