Some years are harder than others. Some years, being thankful means you have to dig deep inside to revive gratitude. Some years, dealing with turkey and pie — and in my house, also black beans and flan — requires more effort than any meal has the right to demand.
This is one of those years.
Truth is, when I put 2017 into context, it would not rate as my worst year ever. It wouldn’t even make it to the top three. Those horrible glad-they’re-gone years were full of death and loss, of rug after rug being pulled out from under me.
2017 isn’t such a year, not even close, and I’d be hypocritical to claim otherwise. In fact, there have been some pleasant surprises: The opportunity to chase a long-held dream, more time to spend with my grandchildren, a clearer vision of where my life should be heading, and the satisfaction of finally witnessing sacrifice rewarded. Really, how many people live long enough to have all this?
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Not that all conditions are completely rosy, of course. I can’t help but fret over an adult child’s struggle, a loved one’s slow surrender to memory loss, a friend’s battle with a debilitating disease, and the physical distance that separates me from my two youngest sons who are oh-so-busy pursuing careers in faraway cities. All these, however, are everyday trials; the bumps and bruises that give life its texture and make us value happiness that much more, no matter how fleeting a pleasure that might be. After all, joy tastes far sweeter after misery and heartache.
Yet … knowing all this hasn’t softened the edges of 2017. Perhaps it’s the times we live in, anxious days bombarded by one tragedy after another, one crisis after another. Mass shootings. Rabid political partisanship. Climate change. Bigotry masquerading as faith and patriotism. And always and forever, an endless stream of “Gotcha!” moments and news stories about genocide, bombastic leaders, war and terrorism, and powerful people who betray our trust time and again.
I’m not sure if our collective funk is the result of being hyper-connected, or of having more time to notice calamities, or recognizing how social media amplifies what might have been disregarded or quickly forgotten just a few years ago. Whatever the reason for disillusionment, however, in the end it doesn’t matter. The challenge is how to deal with this weariness, be it personal or public, so we can appreciate what we do have.
Someone I know has spent the past couple of years trying to manage the mental illness of a beloved. The task is daunting, unpredictable, thankless — and hampered by the ignorant judgment of others. She never knows what the day will bring, an uncertainty I would find nerve-wracking, yet she manages to work, to socialize, to volunteer, to laugh. The courage and strength needed to do this is astounding.
Forget the fireworks of bliss, she advises. Forget expectations. And remember that no moment is too small to celebrate. Our blessings, she believes, are found in the ordinary.
The other week, she brought over a small poster of a Sherpa making his way up a snow-capped mountain. Dressed in colorful winter clothing, he’s bent like a comma under the weight of the cargo he’s lugging. A quote by the late singer Lena Horne spreads over a brilliant blue sky: It’s not the load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it.
Maybe Thanksgiving 2017 isn’t the year we shed problems and packages. Maybe it isn’t the year to expect precision and perfection. Maybe, quite simply, 2017 is the year we fiddle with the rope, adjust the buckle, shift our footing and tweak the placement of our burdens, making it easier for us to carry the heavy baggage.