November is the month we celebrate Thanksgiving. The month when we take time to intentionally practice being grateful and declare our blessings. The month when we walk around with our eyes wide open to our experiences and search for kernels of personal happiness in each moment.
As I sat on the sandy shores of Bimini last month and stared out at the calm, tropical turquoise water—water that looked like it had been dyed with food coloring from a bottle the size of an ocean liner—it wasn’t too hard for me to practice gratitude. And having my family right there with me in that instant empowered me to declare my blessings a little louder. It was a surreal moment full of peace and gratitude that I wanted to somehow bottle up and carry back home with me to North Carolina. Surely, that view alone could continually bring me gratitude.
The fact is that I’m already blessed with a view that every stranger that visits my home in North Carolina loves. Everyone, literally every single person, that visits us steps out of his or her car and scans the rolling countryside while proclaiming some version of “wow.” I love it, too. This view, along with the old farmhouse and windmill, are the very reasons my husband remarked, “We are bidding on this house today,” before we even stepped out of our car onto unfamiliar land more than twenty years ago.
I guess I’ve grown accustomed to the view in my backyard and sometimes overlook it—just like how I would probably overlook the tropical waters of Bimini if I saw them every day.
Oprah Winfrey recently posted on gratitude http://www.oprah.com/spirit/oprahs-gratitude-journal-oprah-on-gratitude. In this post, Oprah discusses an old gratitude journal of her own and how it sparked her to ask why she no longer felt joy in the simple moments after accumulating so much more. Interestingly enough, Oprah discovered she had to make gratitude an intentional, daily process.
We all want to feel joy, peace, and love but, too often, our focus turns us away from the simple things that bring us these pleasures. Our lives become busy with things and people—not in the grounding and bonding ways that bring us contentment, but in the search for affluence, material success, social status, and validating personal worth.
As we turn towards the world and away from our hearts, we begin to think we need more. I want what she has. His life is so much easier than mine. Her romantic husband … his comfy lifestyle … those shoes … that house … and the list goes on and on. But we are never full, never content, and never satisfied. Our hearts should be our contentment meters, yet our minds seem too distracted to listen to what our hearts truly want.
Twenty-six years ago, when I was dating my husband, I went with his family to visit his maternal grandmother’s home in South Carolina. We circled around the mountain and visited his great-aunts and uncles, cousins, and neighbors who had become family over the years. I was surprised that many of these relatives didn’t have bathrooms in their homes. And they also didn’t have modern heating and cooling units. Instead, woodstoves and fireplaces provided heat in the winter and the creek was how they cooled off in the summer. I was humbled by the joy this family shared in just seeing one another and openly acknowledging what they did have. I still remember that day as a day of laughter, and fondly look back on a picnic by the creek listening to the family reminisce about summer gardens, canning, walking down a dirt road to school, and picking blackberries for Great-Grandma.
We also visited Great-Grandma on that trip. There wasn’t much laughter and joy in that portion of the trip; Great-Grandma was sick and in a nursing home and she was miserable. Over and over, she said she wanted to go home. Eventually, Great-Grandma’s children helped her return to her heart’s home—her front porch—before she passed away. If you were ever able to sit on her porch and see her view, you would understand why she insisted on returning and why she clung to life until she was able to sit on her porch again. Great-Grandma’s old home is deteriorating and the meadow to the right of her home is well past overgrown, but even now, immeasurable beauty, peace, and serenity surround her mountain home. The memory of children’s laughter still dances in the meadow with the sunlight. The kitchen still holds past trips over the mountain to collect blackberries for Great-Grandma to cook up into something good. And the rotting porch still holds an invisible rocking chair and a sweet little old lady that loved the view she tended and watered.
When I reflect on that trip to the mountains, I am reminded where thankfulness resides: in the moments when we can connect with our hearts, with what is already in our lives that brings us joy. If my heart is like Great-Grandma’s garden, these moments of thankfulness are the water that bring it to life, and the effort to make gratitude a daily process is how I tend it.
What are you tending and watering today? Please go to my Facebook page and leave a comment.