a hundred from-the-heart thank yous…
all week i’ve been counting, gathering my gratitudes by the dozens. by the hundreds, in fact. maybe you’ve played along. done your own counting up to one hundred. it’s an exercise in excavation of the heart, digging up the way-down blessings, the ones we call to mind each and every hour of each and every day, and the ones we stumble upon in some ephemeral flicker of momentary praise-be to wonder. turns out, it’s something of a diary of the year, this whole long COVID-pocked, election-torn year. it’s been a doozy. and, believe it or not, it’s left me filled with gratitudes. a hundred of ’em. here goes…
dear holy God, and giver of all good and glorious things, consoler in hours of deepest sorrow, the one whose hand i reach toward whenever i’m trembling, whose arms i fall into when the long race is finally ended, dear God, find yourself a cozy chair to sink into, cuz i’ve got a list for you. for all this, i say bless you and thank you. oh, thank you…
for Melissa, Queen of the Sick Call Grocery Delivery, the guardian angel of my college kid’s dining hall who went way beyond the call of duty when she whirled off to a miles-away grocery store, shopped like a mama would shop for her own, and showed up at my fevered child’s sickroom door with six bags of infirmary essentials: crackers and soup, 7Up and microwaveable rice, ginger ale and chamomile tea, packets of oatmeal, and on and on and on, when he was sequestered in quarantine with a whopping case of mono. (funny, how the first one to leap to mind this year is a woman i know only through her undeniable goodness, and her going the most extra mile. if love heals, she gets first round of credit for the mostly recuperated kid who sat at my thanksgiving table last night.)
for election judges, and every single American who stood in hours-long lines, in rain, in sleet, in cold, in undiluted noontime inferno, to put muscle to the great American contract: to slip a single sheaf of X-marked paper into the slit of the ballot box. to make each vote count.
for the two little girls across the way, who have endlessly charmed since the day they moved in, and especially since COVID, as their front yard and driveway have become their play yard and imagination station. sweet little angels (3 and now 5) who dream up goodbye parties for a maple tree that had to be felled, and prance about in their plastic shields as if princesses and warriors from another planet. and for their mama and papa who tag-team their workday to endlessly fill their girls’ COVID-bound days with the old-fashioned sorts of adventures i’d long feared had been lost to obsolescence.
for the big heart of my down-the-block friend who every night goes out into the dark and the cold to feed a duet of stray cats with nowhere else to go.
for the woods where i amble everyday. and the golfballs that — so far — steer clear of my head.
for the moving crew who, despite a few wrong turns, finally found my firstborn’s apartment.
for the law school diploma that now sits on a bookshelf, proving the kid reached the summit of a very steep climb.
for the checkers at my Jewel, the truck drivers, and shelf-stocking crew, the baggers, the cart sanitizers, those blessed frontline workers who never imagined that ringing up groceries would become an act of faith and a stronghold against starvation. as well as the one permissible place to gab beyond the bubble, almost like old times.
for my mailman who never failed.
for my UPS driver, who this year has more than let my fingers do the walking from the safety of my keyboard, and delivered the most curious assortment of necessities i managed to find online.
certainly, for my younger one’s freshman roommate from China who supplied us with a box of N95s before anyone here in America knew much about the masked wonders.
for the ambulance drivers, and the ER crew in the Buckeye State’s far-from-home hospital, who delivered my second-born child safely and soundly, and quickly discovered his sky-high fever was fueled not by COVID but rather by mono, and a whopping dose of it.
for the ER crew here at home, who — in Round Two of this unfortunate adventure — were put to the test to quell the fever that would not go down.
for my long-ago college roommate who turned to page 206 in my new little book, and baked, wrapped, and mailed a box of my grandma Lucille’s turkey cookies. complete with raisins for eyes.
for the editor who kept pace with my decidedly accelerated writing speed, the brilliant designer who rounded up a woodland flock of critters to grace most every page, and for whoever decided to go with the place-holding ribbon, a rarity in book publishing these days. and in the end, brought us The Stillness of Winter.
for all the great thinkers and poets and mystics who’ve filled my bookshelves and my imagination this year, especially Henry Beston, Thomas Merton, Walt Whitman, Annie Dillard, Joy Harjo, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Robert MacFarlane, John Phillip Newell, anonymous who wrote The Way of a Pilgrim, David George Haskell, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson — all of whom make me reach higher and deeper in quest of words that illumine and thoughts that arouse.
for Emergence magazine, and Image journal, and Orion, and the EcoTheo Review, whose boundless intellect and inspirations, breathtaking writing and generous spirit ground me to this holy earth, and launch my highest hopes for healing to come to this wounded planet.
for the wise priest, the monk, and the rabbi to whom i bring my insatiable hungers, my curiosities and questions, and the depths of my soul. for evocative prayers and eloquent sermons, especially the ones threaded through with the cloud of witnesses — the writers and thinkers, poets and everyday saints — who propel me to pull books from the shelves, to search for their stories and truths. for the epiphanies that so often come. and the dots so divinely connected.
for those marketing and p.r. mavens who do the parts of book peddling that make me break out in hives.
for the tangle of bittersweet i found in the woods. and the rusty but trusty clippers that brought a few branches home.
for the occasional news story that infused me with hope again. and the election that tried to.
for the dawn, that light-infused vessel of prayer i step into each morning.
for the ages-old Book of Common Prayer and the crinkling of its tissue-thin pages as i turn them, morning after morning, beginning my day cloaked in holy quietude, in confession of sin, and blessed thanksgiving at the close of each dawn’s intercessions.
for the Cloister Walk candles from St. John’s Abbey, an apothecarial blend of geranium and lily of the valley, sandalwood, patchouli, and cedar that sends me and my prayers wafting toward the heavens.
for cricket song, that hypnotic hum of the ridged-wing critters that seems to rise out of the earth as the late-summer sun begins its daily descent, and the never-seen choristers quite frankly go gangbusters with their nightly rendition of clanging and banging.
for the way the sunlight streamed in and ignited my summer porch as each day drew to a close.
for the zillion ZOOM courses, and poetry readings, and retreats, and workshops with writers that drew me into living rooms and studios and aeries all around the globe….
for the college professors who so compassionately gave my sweet boy flexibility on deadlines for papers and projects. dispensations that might come to haunt us, when he’s typing away on the eve of this Christmas.
for the park district work crew who, last summer, taught my second-born seasonal landscaper the wonders of the midday siesta and flautas made on a portable grill.
for the science writers who so clearly explained COVID, and gave us explicit instructions for how to steer clear of the sometimes deadly, always mysterious, and frankly frightening red-ringed mutating virus.
for the bookshop owner who virtually hosted a throng of beloved bibliophiles the night my little book was launched from the cozy confines of my kitchen — and no one knew i was wearing flip flops and yoga pants under my fine woolen shawl.
for the red birds who bring me such joy, and the blue jays who squawk, and the chickadees and nuthatches and even the flock of humdrum sparrows who delight me hour by hour.
for my prayer bench that so generously offers me a place to sit, tucked under the leafy arbor of my so-called secret kitchen garden.
for my brothers (four) and their wives and fiancé for being my front line of defense when life tests from all sides.
for my next door neighbors who have not yet erected the 6-foot-high fence that will forever cut off that holy slant of late afternoon light.
for my “tird” cousin, Paddy, whose DNA mingles with mine, from back South Kilmo way, at the house by the bridge in County Clare, and who over the year has showered me with everything from the Celtic tunes i play by the hour, to the 20 pounds of basmati rice, and the 18 rolls of toilet paper he had shipped from China, just to be sure i was never without.
for the glorious women in my tribe: my mother, my mother-in-law, my adorable and endlessly effervescent aunt, and all of my sisters by marriage or heart.
absolutely and without hesitation, for those blessed souls, spoken and unspoken, who gather here at the chair.
for those friends who, like me, respect the heck out of the red-ringed virus and don the mask, keep the social distance, scrub hands for at least two rounds of happy birthday, and never ever roll their eyes at my nurse-level cautiousness.
for old friends who always, always understand (no matter the matter at hand). and even if they don’t, go on loving anyway.
for the herbs in my garden (the ones i pluck to this day, adorning my turkey bird just last night with fresh-from-the-farm parsleys and rosemary). and, root of it all, for the brother who insisted i farm, who even tracked down the lumberyard where i could get my 12x2s, and my 24 bags of compost and potting soil.
for the sunrise that never forgot. the stars that always shone. the moon that, month after month, teaches the basics of math: addition, subtraction and the fine art of fractions.
for my window seat, and the hours spent there, curled into the corner where wall meets window.
for bookshelves that bend but do not break.
for that rare string of summer days when each night for two whole weeks, the four of us — a complete set in this house — fell asleep under the same single roof, awoke to the same morning stirrings, and reminded me why this little family i love is the most precious treasure in my whole entire life.
for planes that stayed in the sky, until time to land, for plastic shields and sanitizing gel that did their part to keep my continent-crossing people aloft and free of the virus.
for the long-distance phone lines that kept us connected through the long and lonely — sometimes scary — hours of sheltering in place.
for the deadlines and bylines that put purpose to my writing life.
for lightbulbs that shine so i can read the page.
for all the orchards near and far that turn blossoms to fruit, so harvests might be picked and i might bite into my daily dose of Jazz, or Envy, or Honeycrisp.
for the pie people — and especially Richard, my pierced-ear pie peddler at the farmer’s market — who keep us stocked in a summer’s worth of pie, and who have stocked my freezer full of six — count ‘em — six Thanksgiving-to-Christmas pumpkin pies….
for the fever that finally went down.
for the prayers that hold me in the great abyss of the night. and propel me out of bed each and every morning.
for those rare magnanimous souls who forever keep us laughing, cranking joy out of the cracks and crevices of our lives.
for vote tallies that tilted toward justice and truth.
yes, for the uncluttered calendar of this COVID-strange year, for the Saturday nights when we don’t even need to put on our shoes, and no one needs worry about getting lost on a long drive home.
for the gaggle of boys who’ve grown up at my kitchen table, in carpools, on the soccer fields i watched from the sidelines, the boys who now text me from college, who promise me they’re now immune to COVID and it’s safe for my non-immune boy to join them round backyard campfires, over these long winter months to come…
for the genius microbiologists inventing their way to life-saving, soul-saving vaccines.
for every voice broadcasting the message that masks and social distance are imperative, even when those voices are met with eye-rolls. or worse.
oh, yes, for the sound of footsteps and creaking floorboards in the room up above, telling me someone is home, safe under his covers…
for not waking up on thanksgiving to a mind racing with mile-long to-do lists, and tables to set and refrigerator 3-D geometries to unpuzzle, for awaking on the national day of over-indulging not worried about cooking for a mere three. to this surreal year, with a light at the end of the long long tunnel…
for the sheer stresslessness of cooking for three, in a house with a roaring fire, the referee whistles of football, and the breast of turkeybird who — after nearly twice the projected cooking time — finally succumbed to golden perfection. and for the prosecco by the glassful that washed it all down.
for Eugene Beals, the sheer genius of the five-member California Turkey Producers Advisory Board, who, back in the early 1970s, invented the little red pop-up turkey thermometer, in hopes of rescuing a hungry nation from the dried-out birds being pulled from ovens from sea to shining sea.
for the pine trees and maples who laid down their lives to go up in flames in our soot-stained hearth.
for the God who gives me this breath. and the next — or so i pray.
for the God who doesn’t so much command my attention but rather taps me gently just behind the ribs, on the wall of that vessel that holds so much, sometimes taking my breath away at the sight of a star-stitched sky, or a mama robin beak-feeding squiggly worms to her babies, or the dawn breaking open the indigo night.
for my holy trinity; my three musketeers; my heart, my soul, my everything: my blair, my will, my teddy…..
for all this, dear holy Maker and Infuser of Breath and Beauty, i drop to my knees, open my heart and whisper a most emphatic blessed be thank you……
(sadly, only two of these three were taken this week; the one on the far right is from way back last Christmas….)
and what might be a few of the things for which you are so deeply grateful?
(depending how i count, i seem to be teetering at about the 118 mark in the litany above. oh well. i am certain i will fling off my sheets in the middle of the night suddenly realizing i’ve forgotten the most important 119, 120, 121…indeed the trials of counting your blessings: you cannot stop once you’ve begun…)
And I am grateful that there are people like you who dwell on this earth with positive thoughts and a loving heart, a woman who notices everything around her and the beauty of it all. I continue to read your masterpieces, which become more beautiful as the years pass and think of you and your extraordinary son who blooms because his mother nurtured him with so much love, caring, and intelligence. We are well and I am busy, still working, with hardly a moment to spare each day- for that I am grateful. We will finally see our kids and grandchildren in LA Dec. 7th after 10 months of FaceTime only appearances. Dan, our older son, is flying us out in a private plane for 3 weeks and has rented a lovely house for us to stay in not far from him. Heaven knows that I am grateful for FaceTime and zoom that allow me to attend so many personal events, for being able to still make the lives of children a little better each time I see them on the screen. May we see vaccines cure our people and our economy, and a new president who will care for our earth and all the people in this country with calm, intelligence, and grace. Thinking of you this holiday season – Much Love, Laurie
ohhhh, dear laurie, and now i have yet another chapter to write! the chapter of Laurie, who makes me tear up for all your goodness, and wonders you instilled in my beautiful boy. and for the brilliance of a private plane and a little house — the wonders of that GoT being used to highest, purest, best purpose. oh, hallelujah! that makes me endlessly smile. i love knowing you are uber busy, because that means you are healed and well, and therein is yet another immeasurable blessing.
i send love. so much love. i need you to see my boy. once this thing ends, this COVID thing, we shall come knock at your door. we send love, all of us. xoxoxo
That was beautiful Barbara! I am incredible grateful to know you! You are a total inspiration to me. >
oh, dear jacqueline, bless you, who i think of every time i step to my kitchen sink (which is about a MILLION times a day) as i gaze over to the pair of miniature cloches you once gave to your dinner guests. at the moment i’ve filled them with miniature wood-carved pumpkins and sprigs of bittersweet. perfectly seasonal. i think it was my long-ago enchantment with the Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago that has kept me under a lifelong spell of loving little things. anyway, i hope and pray your day and days are filled with grace and a quiet soulful sense of blessing, and that the boys who huddle beside you keep you glowing through this long winter to come….xoxo
“for the sunrise that never forgot. the stars that always shone. the moon that, month after month, teaches the basics of math: addition, subtraction and the fine art of fractions.” ❤️ Reminds me of Hafiz’s “Even after all this time the sun never says to the earth, “you owe me.“ Look what happens with a love like that, it lights the whole sky.”
I read slowly, absorbing every mentioned blessing. My soul says, “Ahhhh.” Thank you.
ah, dear darling, thank you. maybe i should have pared each line down to its barest purest bones. it’s funny how the simplest sentences are the ones that so often break through……
but of course heavenly lights = you. xoxox
Loved every word.
so lovely. endlessly thankful for facetime that allows me the chance to talk to my 4-year-old granddaughter almost every night as well as my only child, my wonderful son and his wife who I haven’t seen in person for 10 months. and so grateful also for your always inspiring and delightful words to look forward to every Friday morning.
Who knew these virtual screens could become so priceless???
Happy blessed, dear MMcC!!
And please don’t forget our thanks to you. You enlighten us, care about us, stimulate us, challenge us and help us. We are all thankful for you.
Andrea Lavin Solow
Big giant bear hug in return and reply. This chair would be hollow without you. Without Each and every one of you ❤️❤️
I love viewing the world through your lens, sweet friend, and I echo Andrea’s lovely comment above. Sending my love to you and your dear ones, and to all the lovely friends who gather here at the chair. Hugs and more hugs, through this miracle that is the ether, until we can hug once again in person. What a day that will be… Godspeed that day! ❤
what a day that will be, indeed. thought of you much yesterday, as we set our smaller-than-usual tables, pulled our smaller-than-usual birds from the oven, and bowed our heads for our deeper-than-usual prayers of thanks and protection for all those we love, and all those who are hurting or afraid or stepping into the frontline fire.
sending love, each and every day. xoxox
I remember Melissa and her kindness to Your son. I wonder how we, caring and passionate women all, can thank her. A $10 gift certificate for a local store… it could add up to something meaningful. She acted out of love, not for compensation, and we, too, can reciprocate. Thoughts???
Andrea Lavin Solow
i was just wandering over here to send Melissa a link to this litany. yours is a lovely idea. a beautiful idea. a true andrea idea. i am guessing dear melissa would run for the hills should we try to shower her with anything other than our hearts, as she has made clear she acted purely and truly from the goodness of her heart. and that alone was her delight. more pedantically, i wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to go about the mechanics…..i love how you ALWAYS leap into action!
About the Cloister Walk candles you love … Would you share a link? Google did not come through …too many St John’s …
T is in my writing room with me right now, and as he walked in he asked, what smells so good?? i pointed to my calendar, he picked it up, sniffed and said, indeed that was the thing. p.s. there are many many wonderful scents. i fell in love with the name, i believe. as words are my guides always….
and here, is the link: https://bookstore.csbsju.edu/sjub/shop_product_detail.asp?catalog_id=1446&catalog_name=R0lGVFM&pf_id=47031&product_name=QnJvdGhlcnMgQ2FuZGxl&type=1&target=shop_product_list.asp
Ooooh thanks SO much!!!
Barbara, thank you for all the “thank you’s ” that you mentioned above. I am ashamed that I would not have thought of all the things that I have received this year from our Lord and Savior. I am now ready to start counting off all my blessings. Your beautiful words are always welcome.
oh, goodness katherine, no need for shame!! (i grew up always being told i should be “ashamed” of X or Y, and it’s the saddest feeling, a choice of words that was part of the lexicon of another time, and it dinged me every time….) the whole reason we have “practices” and “exercises” in our soulful lives is because sometimes we just have to set our mind to whatever is the task at hand, even a holy one. if i’d not set out to count to 100, i don’t know if all those things would have percolated to the surface. it was a wonderful track running in my brain all week, to keep watch for what i was thankful for, to “catch” it before i forgot, and to run and scribble it on my list, so that when i sat down on friday morning, i had a place to begin. and now i can’t stop thinking of things….
may your counting be a blessing. and here’s a big thanksgiving hug, besides! xoxo
maria popova, founder and creator of the brilliant Brain Pickings, is one of my muses. in her inimitable words, she writes this about gratitude’s cousin, “gratefulness” (note the SLIGHT but critical distinction there), and it is so perfect an addendum to this week’s conversation, i knew i needed to bring it to the table, along with the billy collins poem i will add directly after…
“‘I am grateful, not in order that my neighbour, provoked by the earlier act of kindness, may be more ready to benefit me, but simply in order that I may perform a most pleasant and beautiful act,’ Seneca wrote two millennia ago as he contemplated gratitude and what it means to be a generous human being.
“It is only from such a place of gratefulness that we can perform beautiful acts — from a place of absolute, ravishing appreciation for the sheer wonder of being alive at all, each of us an improbable and temporary triumph over the staggering odds of nonbeing and nothingness inking the ledger of spacetime. But because we are human, because we are batted about by the violent immediacies of everyday life, such gratitude eludes us as a continuous state of being. We access it only at moments, only when the trance of busyness lifts and the blackout curtain of daily demands parts to let the radiance in, those delicious moments when we find ourselves awash in nonspecific gladness, grateful not to this person, grateful not for this turn of events, but grateful at life — a diffuse gratitude that irradiates every aspect and atom of the world, however small, however unremarkable, however coated with the dull patina of habit. In those moments, everything sings, everything shimmers. In those moments, we are most alive.”
and a poem from Billy Collins:
AS IF TO DEMONSTRATE AN ECLIPSE
by Billy Collins
I pick an orange from a wicker basket
and place it on the table
to represent the sun.
Then down at the other end
a blue and white marble
becomes the earth
and nearby I lay the little moon of an aspirin.
I get a glass from a cabinet,
open a bottle of wine,
then I sit in a ladder-back chair,
a benevolent god presiding
over a miniature creation myth,
and I begin to sing
a homemade canticle of thanks
for this perfect little arrangement,
for not making the earth too hot or cold
not making it spin too fast or slow
so that the grove of orange trees
and the owl become possible,
not to mention the rolling wave,
the play of clouds, geese in flight,
and the Z of lightning on a dark lake.
Then I fill my glass again
and give thanks for the trout,
the oak, and the yellow feather,
singing the room full of shadows,
as sun and earth and moon
circle one another in their impeccable orbits
and I get more and more cockeyed with gratitude.
Thank you Barb for putting so much beauty & hope & gratitude into the world here at this table! I’m sorry I missed the virtual book launch, I was giddy with excitement when my preordered books arrived! Happy belated Thanksgiving to you & your crew of man boys. Clearly it has been way too long since my chair has been at your blessed table. Oh and I’m grateful for……my husband & kiddos, the smell of a fireplace fire as smelled from outside the house, my parents, delicious baked goods that magically appear on my porch between Thanksgiving & New Years, walks in the woods, wreaths at the cemetery, books that make the world fade into the background until it’s just you & the story, children’s books, Christmas tree scented candles, early morning runs illuminated by Christmas lights, kids who sleep through the night, so I too can rest. Thanks for the reminder to write down some of my litany of gratitudes!
Oh, honey, I find your litany of joy — a poetry if ever there was — just as I float out of my morning’s prayer and into the earthly morning, and I feel bathed in your radiant goodness. Bless that wreath in the woods especially, and all it honors. Love my bread friend. Xoxo