As I dug my fingers into the box that holds my Angel Cards, I tried to clear my mind. Not think about what I might pull from the pile.
And when I pulled out the “Gratitude” card, I thought about the journal I already keep to remind me that gratitude is important, something that I work to maintain, honor, remember.
What could I do with this as a writing prompt without getting all mushy and pedantic? I mean, we can be thankful for all kinds of things and we can be thankful we are who we are, but some of the worst kinds of writing examples come from a place of nice, happy oh-I’m-so-lucky sentiments. And why is that, exactly?
Lack of tension. That push-pull between what is and what could be, or what we choose and what we miss. When we’re down there reveling in all our life’s pieces for which we’re grateful, we’re not really nudged to do anything else. We’re not thinking deeply. We’re in the moment, like when someone passes the turkey at Thanksgiving and we think, oh, great, there’s that white meat I’ve waited for all month and it’s so good….mmm.
Which is okay. I mean, who doesn’t like a good revel in happy stuff once in a while?
I think the thing that bothers me lately is that gratitude has been kind of trendy for a while, in the, “hey, practice this Zen-like path and it’ll make you happy,” sort of way. There are those gratitude posts on Facebook that are all warm and fuzzy and then you feel sort of guilty if you don’t repost because hey, are you anti-gratitude or what, when all you really want is to see your friend’s photo of their new dog….And that drives me crazy, because gratitude is a pretty serious thing. It does make you happy if you are genuine about it, and not simply saying, “Oh, I’m so thankful because I’m supposed to be.” You have to feel it down deep, down inside where no one else sees, and then you have to recognize that the warm deep feeling you’re so glad to have is just that: gratitude. And it’s okay to feel it even though the world is full of woe and bad news and fanatics who want to hurt anyone who disagrees with them.
So, for a writer, gratitude is a very BIG IDEA that can simmer beneath a story line or behind a poem or shape an essay. It can weave its fibers in among the examples of daily living, like in a poem by Billy Collins that starts by the window and ends with the realization that life is really pretty good.
I start by the window a lot of days. In our bedroom, we have a window that looks out on a bird feeder next to our crabapple tree. Somedays, that feeder is covered with little bird bodies, flittering wings, stabbing beaks, and scrawny little bird feet that hold onto the perch posts with all their might. I watch the finches, sparrows, cardinals, and chickadees fill their bellies because I’ve filled the feeder with black oil sunflower seeds. I watch them fly away, satisfied, and then see the juncos come to feast on the ground below. Sometimes, I go get my morning coffee, return to the window, and think about the day’s projects while I watch the birds. I can hear our dog, Ruby, snore as she sleeps on our recently-vacated bed. It feels lovely to stand there, safe and warm and of my own choosing.
And, as I turn from that window to get on with the day’s work, I realize that this is the embodiment of gratitude, that it weaves through everything, that it does not ask to be named but simply appreciated.
Now it’s your turn. What will you do with today’s Angel Card word?