I have a friend who will not go to restaurants that specialize in food from other cultures. He’s perfectly content with his hamburgers and his French fries and his macaroni and cheese. He likes his vegetables plain and unseasoned, with no fancy sauces, and his salads should only contain lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumber. He can’t imagine how a vegetarian entrée could be as satisfying as steak and potatoes, and he certainly won’t try something that he couldn’t figure out how to prepare himself.
I weep for him.
Eating like that would be akin to living in a library and only reading The Great Gatsby. Great book, and all, but oh, what you are missing! What adventures, what knowledge, what delights are set before you! How can you ignore them?
I also have friends who have never bothered to get a passport. What would be the point? They have no curiosity whatsoever about the wider world. And it’s not a financial issue. They can afford to travel. They just choose not to. It’s maddening.
These friends appear content. And I do envy the fact that they seem to be convinced that they’ve found everything they could ever need or want out of life. That confidence is not mine.
But I think I’d find their lives extremely boring. I enjoy having new experiences. No, I don’t love every single thing I try. (One word: Wasabi.) But I never regret trying.
I like to go places where I’ve never been. I love learning about different points of view. I adore new sights, sounds, tastes.
Life is a fully stocked buffet laid out before you. What a gift! Revel in the abundance! Don’t just stop and smell the roses. Check out the corpse flowers, too, if you get a chance, just to see what their stinky smell is like.
Be adventurous. Eat life! Because this delicious buffet is only opened to you for a finite amount of time. And there’s nothing worse than wasting food.
When I was little, they taught me in school that the first Thanksgiving was a feast shared by the Pilgrims and the Indians, and it was a celebration of peace and friendship. We would take construction paper and cut out Pilgrim hats and feathers, and turkeys and cornucopias, and feel all warm and fuzzy because of all this love and cooperation.
I hope they don’t perpetuate that myth in schools anymore. Even as a kid, that description struck me as a little weird. Which tribe? No one could or would ever say. And why would Native Americans be thankful that we invaded their land, spread disease, and basically took over? Would you be wanting to party if someone did that to you? Gimme a break.
In fact, as long as there has been farming, people have celebrated the end of a successful harvest in one form or another, all over the world. And these celebrations, by definition, came about sometime at the end of harvest time, which in this climate falls in the middle of autumn. In fact, until Abraham Lincoln decreed it, various states celebrated on different days each year. So no one really knows when the first Thanksgiving was.
Also, as long as people have had some type of spirituality, they’ve given thanks when things have gone their way. A fruitful harvest. The birth of a monarch. And sometimes these celebrations were more nefarious. For example, one such celebration occurred in 1588 after the defeat of the Spanish Armada. I’m sure the Spaniards weren’t feeling quite as thankful. Victory in battle was often a time of thanksgiving, losers be damned.
An obvious candidate for the precursor of our current holiday, and one that very few of us know about, is described in this article. There was a horrible slaughter of 700 members of the Pequot tribe in which men, women, and children were surrounded and brutally “subdued”. An annual day of Thanksgiving was then declared by the slaughterers, members of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It’s no wonder that many Native Americans have a problem with this holiday.
Nowadays, I don’t think most non-native people look at Thanksgiving as some sort of historical event that we are commemorating. And the majority of us are too far removed from our food chain to actually be giving thanks for a successful harvest. We just look forward to the day off, the great big meal, and the football. We also either anticipate or dread the family visitors. Another more depressing trend these days is the glorification of the need some people feel to shop.
People may try to twist this day into some warped justification of genocide, or some attempt to feel patriotic about our occupation of this land, or the desire to take advantage of a really big sale, but the reality is, we’re celebrating the same way the ancient Egyptians did, and probably the same way even more ancient peoples did long before the Egyptians existed, because a good harvest has always meant the difference between life and death, and that’s definitely something to celebrate.
I must confess that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Good food, good company, no gift-giving pressure. Just a time to be grateful for love and abundance. That is how I choose to celebrate the day.
I refuse to take this time to glorify and perpetuate the misguided deeds that lead to this country’s founding. Regret for our brutal past is with me year ‘round, even though my family didn’t get here until the 1930’s. It doesn’t merit a feast.
If you choose to give thanks on this day or any other, Happy Thanksgiving.
An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along on this day and every day. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5
I absolutely love buffets, so I try to avoid them. I am frugal by nature, so when I’m charged a fixed price in an all you can eat situation, I tend to try to get my money’s worth. In other words, I gorge myself. I don’t think I’ve ever left a buffet without feeling slightly sick to my stomach and at least moderately ashamed.
Abundance is not something I’ve experienced very often in my life, so it’s not surprising that I tend to overdo. It brings out the worst in me. I can’t imagine who I’d be if I lived in a constant state of abundance. I suspect that this is why the super rich are, for the most part, despicable human beings. If they exhibit even a shred of decency, they’ve no doubt had to work extremely hard to maintain it.
When you have to work for what you need, you appreciate it much more. When you aren’t completely sure you’ll get what you want, it inspires you to strive toward your goals. Achievements are so much sweeter when you’ve actually had to achieve them.
It’s the struggle that defines us. I don’t think pride is such a bad thing when you’ve seen a hurdle and have managed to clamber over it. Yay, you! Victories are all the more delicious for having been hard-won.
I have much more respect for those who try and don’t always succeed than I do for those who have had everything in their lives handed to them on a platinum patter. For most of us, life is not a buffet. But there’s a certain dignity to being figuratively lean and hungry, all while maintaining your integrity.
There is an interesting human spectrum that tells you a great deal about people. I call it the generosity spectrum. But it also has a great deal to do with trust, confidence, kindness, and a sense of karma.
At one extreme, you have people who are so wide open that they put themselves at risk. These are the people who will not only pick up every hitchhiker they see, but will invite them to come crash on their couch for a couple of months. Need a shirt? Here’s the one off my back. Yeah, I know it’s snowing, but you said you needed a shirt.
At the other extreme, you get the bitter old men who will not let the neighborhood kids retrieve their balls from their yards. They see everyone as a threat, and guard their property jealously. They are definitely not people who will support you in times of crisis. In fact, they will resent that you even ask.
I don’t think either extreme is particularly healthy, to be honest, but I must admit that I try to surround myself with people toward the more generous end of the spectrum. The reason I do that is that I’ve noticed that those people who look at the world from a place of abundance tend to have more positive things happening in their lives. As unscientific as it is, abundance tends to breed abundance.
Sadly, I’ve had quite a few encounters with the opposite extreme of late.
I’m working on an anthology that will include several of my blog entries on the subject of, ironically, gratitude. Being my first book, this is an extremely low budget operation. I saw some artwork that I would have loved to have used on the front cover, and I approached the artist. I told him that I thought his work was amazing, told him what I had in mind, and asked if he’d allow me to use a print of his painting, give him due credit and increased exposure, and give him a percentage of the profits should any arise. He responded that he was sick and tired of people trying to steal his work. Message received.
I also saw an amazing film at the Seattle International Film Festival and had the opportunity to talk to the director afterwards. I then wrote a very positive review for this blog, encouraging everyone to go see it, and sent the director the link, thinking he’d be flattered. Instead he told me to take the review down, saying he didn’t give me permission to use his words, and that it had been a private conversation. (Mind you, this took place in a crowded room, with a total stranger, at a film festival where he was present to promote his work.) Um… yeah. That was the first time I’d ever had to take down a blog entry.
But perhaps the most painful encounters I’ve had with people more toward the “lack” end of the generosity spectrum have come from friends and family. I wasn’t expecting this at all. It has caused me to reevaluate the way I view some of them.
Recently tragedy struck my family. I’m extremely close to my niece and nephew, especially now that my sister has passed away. So when my niece needed help, I naturally stepped up.
Her husband broke his neck. He was the sole breadwinner of the family, and they have three children, ages 1, 3, and 6. Needless to say, this is bad. No family should have to choose between feeding their children and paying the rent, especially when they’re already dealing with the stress of extreme pain and slow recovery.
This catastrophe has consumed me for well over a week. I have averaged about 3 hours of sleep a day, and my whole world revolves around this situation. So I created a GoFundMe campaign to try to raise money to take some of the pressure off them. Then I asked friends and family to share the campaign on social media.
Mind you, I didn’t ask anyone to contribute money. Not everyone has the money to contribute. I totally get that. I live it. I simply asked them to spread the word. By doing so, they would be showing support at a time when I am feeling particularly helpless, and that is worth more to me than gold. They would also be giving their friends and family the chance to pay it forward if they have been through similar past tragedies and are in a position to do so, and that is a great opportunity for healing.
A lot of people stepped up and shared. This means so much to me that it brings tears to my eyes. But others showed that they are coming from a place of lack rather than abundance by reacting in a variety of negative ways.
I’m told I’m being pushy, or inappropriate, or embarrassing. I’m told that I have a lot of nerve, when there are so many people in the world who are worse off, and when there is so much drama happening all over the place. I’m being ignored by people who never ignore me. I’m being told that they get requests like this all the time, and if they shared mine, they’d have to share everyone’s, and we can’t have that, can we?
Oh, where to begin. Point by point, I suppose. First of all, I don’t think there’s any shame in asking for help when it’s desperately needed. Sorry if that makes you uncomfortable. Yes, there are billions of people who are worse off. How do you determine the cut off? Who is “allowed” to be scared, worried, stressed out, and in need of support, and who is not? I know that tragedies abound, but this is a situation where I can actually make a difference, and when an opportunity like that presents itself, I’m going to jump on it.
I would never, EVER ignore a plea for help. That’s just rude. And granted, my social network is probably smaller than a lot of peoples, so I don’t get requests of this type as often as they probably do, but I promise you, when someone comes to me, at the end of their rope, their lives changed for the worst, and asks me to simply share a Facebook post, I’m going to share it every single time. Every. Single. Time. Because the people on my Facebook feed are grown ass adults who can decide whether or not to contribute or pass on a post, so they’ll “get over” my intrusion. Or they won’t. Oh well.
And, too, coming from the more generous end of the spectrum, I truly believe that even if you can’t contribute financially to someone you love, you can, and should, always be able to contribute emotionally. It’s not easy to ask for help. But it’s made so much worse when you are rejected after you ask. It’s times like this that show what you’re truly made of. I’d hate to be made of selfish things. It don’t think it’s a good look.
The worst mistake I’ve ever made was staying for decades in a situation that made me unhappy. I now look back on those years with sadness and wonder what I could have achieved if I only had the courage to listen to my gut. But no. I played it safe. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I thought that by putting everyone’s needs ahead of my own, I was being a good person. The truth was that I was afraid to take risks. What a massive waste.
In essence I held myself back, and by extension I’m pretty sure I held everyone around me back as well. I thought I was being kind by not rocking their boats, but actually I was being selfish. By not allowing myself to grow, I was stunting the growth of the people I cared about most.
Now that I’ve started leaning toward my growing edge, I’ve discovered that I’ve made a positive impact on a lot of people without even trying. I’ve been told that by doing my thing and living my joy, I’ve influenced others to take chances. I’ve gotten people moving and applying for jobs, and actually taking their talents seriously. I’ve encouraged people out of toxic relationships. I’ve introduced people who would otherwise have never known each other, and that’s sparked some amazing collaborations. I’ve shown people different ways to look at the world. I feel as though I’ve opened some sort of flood gate and the abundance therefrom is washing over more than just me.
Am I taking credit for other people’s lives and choices? No. Of course not. Life is way too complex for that. But I have to say that I’m noticing this existential shift all around me, and I don’t think I’d be seeing it, feeling it, or experiencing it if I had simply stayed put. I had to get into the flow to be a part of it, to increase that flow.
The worst thing you can do is make choices for yourself based on how others might feel or react. Doing so assumes that their present existence is their best existence. That means you are underestimating them. You have no idea how your changes might free them up to make changes of their own.
So don’t stay put. Don’t cling. Don’t become stagnant. Move! Grow! There’s a big old world all around you. Experience it!
It’s not as though young people are beating a path to my door, asking me for advice. In fact, I don’t really know any young people. We move in entirely different circles. But given my rich inner landscape, I have a tendency to carry on conversations in my mind that I’ve never really had. This is one of them.
I have this fantasy that 30 years hence, some university asks me to speak at their graduation. Who knows why. But graduation speeches are the perfect forum to share what you’ve learned about life. So here’s what I’d say in this speech of a lifetime.
I stand here near the end of my life, looking at all of you, who are at the beginning of yours, and I am very excited for you. I suspect you are feeling overwhelmed by the possibilities for your future. There are so many paths you can take. How do you choose? Terrifying abundance. What a gift!
Embrace that feeling. Lean into it. And allow yourself the first-world luxury of feeling this abundance for the rest of your life. One of the worst mistakes you can make is letting yourself feel trapped. You always have choices. You may not choose them out of a sense of obligation, a fear of failure, or the comfort of the well-worn path you find yourself on, but those choices are still there, waiting for you. Therein lies your freedom.
Never forget that it is entirely up to you to write your own life story. No one else can do it for you. Every single person on this planet will take a different journey. That’s more than 7 billion unique journeys going on right this second. Isn’t that amazing? So make your journey your very own.
At least once a day, stop what you’re doing and look around you. Really, really look. You’ll be amazed at what you see.
Don’t let your family dictate your career, don’t stay married only for the sake of the children, don’t remain in a job that you hate because people are counting on your paycheck. If you do, you will have regrets. Regrets are your brain’s way of telling you that you just didn’t listen to it.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Just make sure that the mistakes you make are all yours. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in life, and so will you. Most of mine have been because I didn’t follow my gut, I worried about what others thought, and I allowed myself to be talked into things that didn’t feel right. But in the end, my mistakes were just another part of the journey, and they often taught me much and sent me down paths I’d have never discovered otherwise. It’s all good. It’s life.
So live your life. Yours. Make it unique. Make it a work of art. And give others the space to create their own masterpieces.
The only other piece of advice I have, and this is very important: take a picture of your butt now. Someday you’re going to miss it.
I’ve been thinking about gratitude quite a bit lately. In fact, it’s going to be the subject of my first anthology. As a topic it’s much more complex and richly nuanced than I first thought.
I’m finding that the more I view my life in terms of gratitude, the more blessings I seem to receive. There’s something about the mere act of sincerely acknowledging the abundance in your life, putting it out there in the universe that you realize that these things are gifts, not privileges. This seems to attract even more abundance.
The more pragmatic side of me thinks that it’s not actually that you’re getting more positivity. It’s more that you’re becoming attuned to the largesse that was always there. Perhaps you have just taken it for granted, or have been focused on the more negative aspects of your life.
Crunchy granola gifts or clear-eyed perspective? Either way, I’ll take it! Thank you. More, please.
While discussing this with friends, I was asked, “Can gratitude ever be inappropriate?” That question intrigued me quite a bit. I suspect that gratitude in general is very influenced by the culture in which you find yourself. People in some countries just seem to be much more instinctively gracious than those in others.
Is one viewpoint better than another? The fact that we have coined terms such as “obsequious”, with its seemingly negative connotations, would lead one to believe that there is such a thing as too much gratitude.
I tend to think that any gratitude, if sincere and genuine, is not misplaced. But who am I to judge? I’m just happy to be here!