Not long after I fell down the hole of depression, my aunt told me to be thankful. No, to practice being thankful.
We were sitting at the kitchen counter, both of us teary eyed, as she told me stories of her own times in the hollow.
“One thing I started to do was practice thankfulness. Every day I wrote down ten things I was thankful for. It could be for a good book, the blue sky, my brand new tennis shoes, whatever, all that mattered was that I did it. That I stuck to it.”
Like love, I believe that thankfulness is active. For those in hard places, it takes work, it takes effort, it takes time until you can truly feel that gratitude in your bones, instilling you with a fervor to express joy to everyone, to the God above, to the God of love and kindness and grace and patience. Feeling gratitude is, in and of itself, a gift, a blessing, the sign of a healthy heart.
But sometimes, your heart has been hit. It has been broken, crumpled up, tossed out the window and no matter how badly you want to be grateful, you know that what you feel isn’t that. Sometimes, thankfulness isn’t possible.
When you’re in the bottom of your hollow, things like gratitude are no match to heavy unfairness of it all.
I wasn’t grateful for a long time, but I learned to practice it anyway. I wrote list after list after list of the most random things, I heard a bird outside my window and wrote thankful for the bird, I saw a grammatical error in the newspaper and wrote thankful great writers are imperfect too, I laid in the hammock below the blue, partly cloudy sky, and I said thankful for the clouds. I kept a mental notebook open and jotted away at everything I noticed.
Which is maybe the point of it, this practicing gratitude. It lifted my eyes from my own pain to really notice the world around me. To see how beautiful it was, how present it was, how much color I missed when I crouched down into my blue. I did not feel grateful for awhile, but little by little, note by note, I was drawn out of that hollow. I was pulled into the light of day with the beginnings of someone that will be well. Someone that will one day be well enough to be grateful.
It is thanksgiving today, but you don’t have to feel thankful. Today might be impossible for you. Today, might be your guiltiest day of the year for you.
Today you might look across the table at all the loved ones around you, the big feast before you, the laughter and games that will follow, the late night cider and cocoa, and in all of it, you know that you are lucky, that you love them and this, but inside, the most real feeling to you is the damp earth your stuck in. And that’s alright. It is normal. Today doesn’t demand your thankfulness. Today only asks for your presence.
And maybe today is a day to take notes. To notice. To open up that journal and jot them all down. To do it because deep in your heart, you know that you don’t belong entrenched down here. You don’t deserve to be down here. You choose to believe it’s possible to get out here.
And you tell yourself over and over, you are loved, you are accepted, you are free, you are a work of art.
And you don’t have to feel it, you need only to notice it, write it down, write it down, write it down, and write it down… Do it as an act of justice, an act of defiance against the unfairness of this place. Carry those blessings around with you with a sense of patience, self-respect, and a small seed of hope.
A hope that in this practice, this noticing, you will build your way out.