Sometimes, it seems we move on too quickly. In this lull between holidays, I’d like to think we could hang onto a bit of gratitude even as the holiday decorations quickly change from turkeys and pumpkins to wreaths and bows.
When I was a child, the thanksgiving feast was a collaborative effort across 5 or more branches of an extended multi-generational family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. While we all pitched in to prepare for and enjoy the meal, the post-prandial antics of the younger generation—usually instigated by a mischievous uncle—made the gathering all the more fun. And two turkeys ensured we always went home with full bellies and leftovers for another day.
The wait until Christmas seemed long at that age, anticipation building with each passing week.
The holiday itself always evoked a sense of abundance, even when resources were scarce. Part of that was the richness of being embraced by that extended family. But tables spread with traditional Italian treats for twenty or more, and gifts under a tree which sparkled all the way to the ceiling were reminders of how lucky I was, even if my father had abandoned us, leaving my mother to raise three kids on a shoestring.
Now I feel that abundance in the love of cousins and siblings who share the same memories, and many holiday celebrations. And from our kids in whom we try to instill the same traditions and gratitude. And for the brilliant sunset out the window as I fly home. And for the abiding love of my husband, even when I push him to do things against his instinct, like embracing change by moving to a new home after 30 years.
Cancer doesn’t take a break for the holidays, but a dear friend has turned the corner after an unexpected hospitalization, giving me hope. And another patient I support whose cancer has recurred has new-found optimism and a new treatment plan. For both of these I am grateful. But the pressure to move on, to forget about these gifts and keep pace with the hustle and bustle of the holidays is hard to resist.
I returned home to an endless list of annoying chores, most of which required multiple steps and the reliance on others to complete—so hard for a self-reliant list-maker who loves to get things done. In the past 48 hours, I have spent far too many hours on hold or interacting with computerized customer service systems that lack the intelligence or compassion to deal with my specific needs and increasing frustration. Like dealing with cancer itself, it was a process of one step forward, two steps back, followed by two steps forward and one step back—dancing, but never advancing.
I’m hanging onto my gratitude, while anticipating the joy yet to come, but sometimes it seems as if only by a thread. Is it okay if I blow off a little steam by expressing my frustration to a non-sentient automated response system blocking me from the human being I know will be able to help? Is it okay if I curse out the cancer that has sent my friend to the hospital in the first place? Can gratitude and frustration co-exist? Deep breathe. They will have to. That’s life.