Friday, January 13, 2023

The First Blessing

Rushing about in preparation for the holidays, I’ve been thinking about reasons to be thankful. There are so many—and no, this will not be the list of them we occasionally see this time of year.

I do, however, want to point out the first and best of reasons: We are alive, following years of upheaval. Those of us who lost loved ones during the pandemic isolation time may find our own survival to this date somewhat miraculous, in fact.

I’ve had a stark reminder of this situation over the past week. My otherwise healthy cousin in Seattle died of circulatory complications from Covid, and my son has the virus right now, in Manhattan. So does his wife. Three friends who went to Europe on dream trips returned with it, and two have recovered.

The pandemic intensified our understanding of human vulnerability to forces we cannot see. Viruses, for example. Some of those forces move so slowly we don’t notice them until much damage has occurred. I’m thinking here of the attrition experienced by our woods and wildlife since LH wrote in Texas Chronicles about what it was like to be here alone in 1986—surrounded by wild creatures and dense foliage.

We do recognize drouth, and we pray for rain. Even the least traditionally religious among us asks the Universe for mercy in a variety of troubling situations.

This may be the characteristic most defining of human nature. We ask for help. We give thanks for blessings.

Each time we do it we confirm our certainty of the tiny, fragile position we represent in the vastness of space. A terrifying thought, unless we believe there’s a guiding Force to supplicate.

All this is why I think of Thanksgiving as our most ecumenically religious American holiday. Everyone who gives thanks on that day participates in a religious act. Because thanking requires a recipient.

Think of the holiday tables where we’re asked to say what we’re thankful for.

Who are we thanking? (And it’s not just the cook or the person who paid for the food.)

The experience isn’t really confined to one day, either.

Even the most secular of our households find their inhabitants expressing thanks or gratitude for various blessings during the year. (There I go again. Hard to talk about it without using religious terms.)

But blessings do feel as though they fall from a great Magnanimity that surrounds us, listening, caring, providing comfort. We may want to think we have done something to encourage those good things, but have we? Perhaps. But do we diminish them by treating them as a transaction? Aren’t blessings most deeply a gift for which to be thankful?

I’ve had many reasons to give thanks this year, aside from the matter of survival I mentioned earlier. My fiction writing has begun to gain recognition, opening the doors of a fairly reclusive life to possibilities of broader connection. Less loneliness, perhaps.

The process of grieving the loss of my husband showers me with reasons. I give thanks for him, for his forbearance with me, for his love. Perspective on our life together is like a peony or other many-petaled flower slowly unfolding from bud to full-blown. It takes time to appreciate all the stages, both while they’re going on, as well as later.

And time, itself—which is life, after all—is maybe the fundamental thing to give thanks for. The first of our many blessings. 

It's our nature to center certain emotions on recurring calendar dates, but being thankful is one we can hold close all year.

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