On Saying Thanks
There is a book I love by Lauren Winner. It’s called Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, and is about the ways she drifted from faith and found it again, slowly and differently, in the year after her mother died and her married ended. When I think about being single at Thanksgiving, I think about one small essay from this book. She is celebrating Thanksgiving with her family just a couple of weeks after she has moved out of the house she and her almost ex husband shared. There have been deaths and illnesses and some hard things in the family, besides her own hard time. She brings a poem to read. It is this one, by W. S. Merwin:
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you
with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is
She loves this poem, loves the idea that humans continue to say thank you even when everything is hard and going wrong and things are actually very tragic. She hopes that her family will think these things, too, in fact, she is waiting for them to applaud her choice, but then her aunt says: “Well, that was bleak” and everyone goes back to eating their pie.
I think what I love the most about this short essay is simply this: it’s a lovely idea to talk about being thankful in all things, in the face of muggings and hospitals and seemingly endless evenings alone when you would rather not be. But sometimes it just sucks, and those times often correspond to the holidays when it seems like everyone has someone except you. Sometimes, we don’t have to pull out our gratitude journals and wrack our brains for what we’re thankful for. Sometimes, it’s just bleak.
You have other things in your life, of course, and I’m guessing you’re even thankful for them most of the time. But this year, I’m giving you a pass. This year you don’t have to be performative about how okay you are. This year, it’s okay if you don’t feel like being thankful for another year in which you don’t have to fight anyone for leftovers. Sometimes singleness is just bleak. Sometimes it isn’t beautiful and redemptive. Sometimes it’s just hard.
The other thing I love about that essay is that sometimes you really are in that space where you can see the beauty in the hard things. This poem serves as a wonderful reminder that the human spirit is indomitable. One person’s bleak can be another person’s place of wonder. It all depends on the timing. It all depends on where you are in the process. This year, just be where you are. Sometimes that is enough to be thankful for.
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