My grandmother Fleeta was a cheery person.
That’s what I’m told, anyway.
She had a can-do attitude. She laughed when she could have cried. She raised her children with a mixture of gentle acceptance and high expectations.
She lived through the loss of her mother, then her brother, then the Great Depression, then the loss of several pregnancies and her dreams to have a house full of children, then cancer, the loss of parts of her body cut away to stave off the disease, then the loss of her husband — and through it all, she was the type of woman who had the grit to carry on, to “kick it on through,” as was her motto.
She was the type of woman who loved the Christian hymn, “Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel.” She was the type who would say a hearty, “Happy Thanksgiving,” even though the dark clouds may be gathering, I imagine.
I wish I knew for sure.
But even though I don’t, even though she died before I was born, I think about the stories I’ve been told about her, and I feel a bit of that grit inside of me. I think about the struggles of my life, and I think, if Fleeta could laugh when she should have cried, I can too.
I may not like the sun setting at 5 p.m., I may still have a mouse loose in my house, and booby traps of all kinds lining my floors to catch the vermin, and I may feel sorry for myself that I’m not going on a vacation to Hawaii this week — but, I am grateful.
I am going to have a Happy Thanksgiving. And I’m going to start by making a list of the things I’m thankful for, to sweep away the things I’m not.
No. 1: I am grateful for the way the sky looks after a storm. I love the way the air clears, and the mountains glow, and the lake glitters in the sun. It never glitters that way unless a storm has charged through with all of its tumult and aggression. All day the sky could be dripping and sad, but then, nothing compares to the feeling I have when I see the sun break through.
No. 2: I am grateful for people who care about their fellow humans. I’m grateful for the people in the world who show up at search and rescue parties, who organize donation efforts for refugees, who volunteer in soup kitchens and elementary schools. I’m grateful for the people in the world who don’t discriminate against people based on their color, gender, sexual preference or religion. I’m grateful for the guys who jumped out of the city dump truck yesterday to push a dead car across traffic, even though they didn’t know who they were helping and they could have been hurt.
No. 3: I am grateful for the wild places on this Earth. I am grateful for the natural beauty in this state that surrounds me, for mountainscapes that some might travel around the globe to see, available in my backyard. I’m grateful for the chance to escape into a world of red rocks and granite towers that remind me of my fragility, of my place in this ecosystem, and my awe of the forces that shaped it. I am grateful that I can go to a place where ancient people left markings of their lives, where I have no cell phone service, where I can scan the entirety of a horizon and see no evidence of a modern world’s pollution, corruption and greed. I am grateful that, in nature, I can feel more of the goodness in humanity. I am grateful some of those areas are claimed for that purpose, protected to remain in the same condition as only the forces of nature can decide.
No. 4: I am grateful for a body that sees, and breathes, and moves. Not all of us live in a world where we feel no pain. All of us live in a world where we have limitations. Sometimes, my world is colored by a constant hue of self-judgment. I am often looking at the ways my body could be better. I could be faster, stronger, skinnier and more flexible. I’d like to do a handstand, and I still can’t. I’d like to hold my breath and swim under water for as long as I choose. I’d like to feel like a gazelle when I run, and I don’t. But in this moment, I am grateful for a body that can sleep, eat, and move.
No. 5: I am grateful for my family. They make the sunrises brighter, the rainbows more magical, and the dinner table the most satisfying place on earth. They are my storm clouds, my glittering lake after the rain, my caring humans, the people I most want to be with in the wild, and the reason this body gets up in the morning.
Some days are dark, some days are lonely, and every day is hard — but like Fleeta said, every day is a day to “kick it on through.” Especially Thanksgiving.