What Are You Grateful For?

We’re less than a week from celebrating Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday based on two “g” words–gathering and gratitude. Interestingly,Thanksgiving–not Christmas–is the only holiday where many U.S. workers routinely get two days off from work. And while the day after, the official kickoff of the Christmas shopping season, is capitalism at its best (or worst, depending on how you look at it), the Thanksgiving holiday itself is not measured in shopping days.

So I’m grateful for Thanksgiving itself–that such a holiday still exists in what seems to be an increasingly cynical age.

A few other things I’m grateful for, in no particular order (except the first one!)

  • My husband. Bruce was my champion, caretaker and ombudsman during breast cancer treatment and is one of the best sounding boards out there (when I’m willing to listen. I can be a bit bull-headed.) Forgive the cuss word but I don’t know how else to word this, other than to say he has one of the best bullsh*t detectors I know.
  • My family and friends. I’m so lucky to have so many wonderful, caring, intelligent, funny people in my life. I don’t get to see some of them often enough but they are always in my thoughts.
  • My online community. Ditto what I just said; I’m grateful for the intelligent, passionate, funny people I’ve come to know online. I will never agree with those who think online relationships are somehow less real than offline ones. That’s like saying people who got to know each other primarily through writing letters (remember letters?) had relationships that somehow were less authentic or passionate. Bruce and I conducted much of our courtship via letters while we were engaged to be married. He was stationed on an aircraft carrier in the days before cell phones, texting and tweeting. I still have them in a big cardboard box, 37 years later.
  • Critters. Doesn’t matter if it’s a junco at the bird feeder or a dog with its head hanging out of a car window or a cat sunning on my deck loveseat; critters make me happy. Bruce and I were in the hot tub listening to geese fly over last night and it doesn’t matter how many times I hear it, I’m grateful that wild things are still out there.
  • Life. This is the big one and I can thank breast cancer for that. Women who have been through it are widely divergent on whether cancer is something to be grateful for; I’m one who’s a bit higher on the gratitude meter. I think some of this is semantics; you may not be grateful for cancer itself, but you may have grown and be thankful for that growth, or grateful for the support of family and friends. I’m very lucky mine was caught early (and I should mention how grateful I will always be to my medical team). And early as it was, the experience made me realize how lucky I am just to be here. I used to take that for granted; I don’t any more.

Those are just a few of the things I’m grateful for, and I’m sure you have a gratitude list of your own. If you’re on Twitter, you may have seen Deb Thomas’s series of tweets on the #gratitudealphabet. I loved her Q list in particular; Q being Quiet. Deb said she loves when she can quiet her mind and make space for other great things to happen. I couldn’t agree more.

You don’t have to be on Twitter to try coming up with your own gratitude alphabet.

P.S. If you’re reading this, I’m grateful to you for being here. Thank you.

Turning Pain Into Art

“We have art in order not to die of the truth.” -Nietzsche

I’m one of those people who thinks art is a necessity, not a luxury. When I went through the obligatory Hermann Hesse/Kahil Gibran phase in high school, I couldn’t get enough of that Persian poem about how if two loaves alone to thee are left, sell one and with the dole buy hyacinths to feed thy soul. While that particular passage is a bit flowery for me now, I still love what it represents.

We count on art to make sense of what defies logic and to say what cannot be said. I The one thing that came as close to explaining the horror as of 9/11 as anything could was Deborah Garrison’s poem “I Saw You Walking.” (If you click the link, it’s the third poem down.) I don’t remember any details of the 24/7 news from that time, but that poem is lodged in my brain.

Lately the thought of pain as muse has been rattling around in my head. I can’t stop thinking about a wonderful Paris Review article I read a couple of months ago. (I don’t want to sound more cultured than I actually am; I found it courtesy of the Zite magazine app on my iPad.) It’s called “Frida’s Corsets,” and it’s about how Mexican artist Frida Kahlo created art from the corsets she had to wear to support her ruined spine after a streetcar accident. It’s a stunning story.

I was somewhat familiar with Frida Kahlo’s art and her chronic pain, but had no idea they were so intimately twined until reading this article. In that pre-cloud era, I wonder how many people outside of her circle of friends and fellow artists even knew what she was doing. And I wonder how she’d be using social media if she were here now.

Today we have artists like Regina Holliday, who has turned her own loss into art focused on patient rights and advocacy, including her Walking Gallery of wearable art. We have photographers like David Jay, who created The Scar Project, an amazing photography gallery and book of young women with breast cancer.

We have journals of literature and healing like the incomparable Bellevue Literary Review,which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. (Doctor/poet Rafael Campo’s essay on “Illness as Muse” in the 10th anniversary issue is a must read. Trust me on that.) We have newly minted ezines like Narrative Nipple, which focuses on breast cancer.

I admire artists of all kinds. But there’s a special place in my heart for the ones who can tap into personal or collective pain and open a window to what’s not easily understood or explained. I would argue that we need them every bit as much as we need patient advocates. Turning pain into art is the essence of empowerment.