“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold rather a large amount of Gratitude.” ~ A.A. Milne
My favourite American holiday has always been Thanksgiving. When I was a child I looked forward to the dining table groaning with roast turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy and pumpkin pie, as well as the fact that my birthday sometimes coincided with the fourth Thursday of November. When I became an adult and entered the workforce the four day weekend shone as a beacon in the midst of the short, dreary days of driving to and from work in the darkness of late autumn. As time marched on and I experienced my share of the griefs and joys that make up a life, the actual meaning of the day began to take on greater significance. It may be hokey, but I actually do like to take time to think about all I have to be thankful for on this day.
Although research has shown that cultivating a grateful attitude in life brings many health benefits, including a stronger immune system and reduced stress levels, I find it rather sad that the UK has chosen to adopt the shopping frenzy known as Black Friday without even a nod in the direction of giving thanks. And back home in America, Thanksgiving is rapidly getting lost as Black Friday spills over into the one day in the year set aside to think about what we already have, not what we think we want. Is this what it is all about – making out shopping lists and planning the best route to take in order to hit as many sales as possible? I hope not.
This Thanksgiving I have been reflecting on the many things I have to be thankful for in light of a recent trip to visit my family in America. It was my first time home in three years, and it left me with a storehouse of happy memories to look back upon. We enjoyed a hilarious night-time light sabre battle outside my brother’s home, with children and adults racing around in the warmth of an October evening in California. My mother and I fell back into our old, familiar groove of working harmoniously in the kitchen. We shared meals, conversations into the night, silly card games and visits to many of my old, familiar stomping grounds. I showed Mr. H my home town of San Diego and the house where I was born. We made Starbucks runs and ate proper Mexican food. I attended my nephew’s Boy Scout merit badge award ceremony and watched my niece sing in a choir. We stood outside one cold, clear night up in Oregon and gazed in wonder at the Milky Way and what seemed like a billion stars. We talked and reconnected as you can only do in person. Skype and Facetime are wonderful inventions which help us communicate easily with loved ones far away, but they can’t replicate the closeness you feel when you are face to face with someone.
Our trip to the States was all I could have hoped for, which made leaving all the more difficult. How do you say good-bye, not knowing how many years it might be before you see your loved ones again? Well, if you’re me you do so with a great many tears and a great many demands that people visit; then you square your shoulders, dry your eyes, and turn your thoughts toward home – not your old home that you are leaving behind again, but your new home where your life is now.
One of the benefits of the trip home was a realization of some of the things I am thankful for here in the UK, and today I’m going to look back on some of the silly and serious aspects of this new life for which I am grateful. Happiness and contentment aren’t merely things that happen to you. They are choices you make. You choose how to look at life; you choose whether to look at the things you have rather than the things you don’t have. You choose whether to be happy in the now or whether to pine for the past. So here are a few things that returning to America made me grateful for here in the UK.
- Family. Last Sunday we gathered together with my husband’s family to celebrate a British/American Thanksgiving. We had turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy, pumpkin pie – the works; but best of all we had three generations of family gathered around the table, talking, laughing and enjoying a happy reunion. The children were boisterous and chattering away, complaining about the music choices their parents were making (too slow, too quiet) and showing off their new pet guinea pigs. The adults shared tales of our recent travels and talked about life, work, and the general state of the world. It was warm and friendly and immeasurably comfortable. I looked around the table and thought how blessed I am to have become a part of this kind-hearted, loving clan.
- Driving. OK, I have to admit that aside from seeing my family and friends again, one of the things I most looked forward to about my recent trip was the chance to drive in America again. Wide lanes, an automatic transmission and driving on the right hand side – oh joy! After being away for a while you forget just how lovely and wide the roads are in the US, how big the parking spaces, how prevalent acres and acres of free parking are. You forget just how easy it is to drive there. I also forgot about the traffic. Driving through Los Angeles on the 405 freeway I was confronted with eight lanes in each direction, all jam packed with cars traveling bumper to bumper at speeds that had me clutching the steering wheel in a death grip of barely suppressed terror. Once we made it out of LA to the comparative wide-open spaces of the I-5 a new threat presented itself. In the three and a half weeks I was in the US I saw more people texting while driving than I have seen in over three years here in the UK. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen here, but not on anything like the scale I witnessed in California and Oregon. As a result, I had more near misses with trucks swerving over into my lane than has happened in over three years in the UK. We hadn’t been on the road for more than two hours before I vowed never to complain about British drivers again. Of course I probably will, but I do have a greater appreciation for driving here than I did before. It made the M25 seem positively civilized by comparison.
- Listening to the radio. Our rental car came equipped for digital satellite radio, but it had not been enabled, so we were forced to rely on local radio stations during our long road trip. From Los Angeles International Airport to Klamath Falls, Oregon is a distance of about 700 miles. We did that twice, and I think we only had decent radio reception for at best about 200 of those miles. The rest of the time all the stations seemed to be playing music that made me want to munch on corn chips and salsa. The one or two decent stations we found had erratic reception and played more ads than music. It made me thankful for Classic FM here in the UK, a station you can listen to from one end of the country to the other.
- Dubious medical advertisements. During those long hours in the car listening to anything other than Tejano music, Mr. H and I heard one particular weight loss commercial that was so awful it was funny. The first time we heard it we burst out laughing, and after hearing it a few more times its catch-phrase entered into the vocabulary of our little pop-culture of two. From the number of medical advertisements you hear on American TV and radio you would have to assume that everyone in the US is at death’s door from one ailment or another. It made me realize how nice it is in the UK to not have to suffer through commercials telling me to ask my doctor about the latest purple or yellow or blue pill.
- Mountains. Nothing compares to the sight of a snow-capped volcanic peak standing sentinel above a valley, and when you have an entire chain of one mountain after another the sight on a clear day is truly awe inspiring. The mountains of the Sierra Nevada and the Cascades would dwarf our little local Brecon Beacons by comparison, but I have to say that our Welsh mountains are far more accessible. The mountains I’ve hiked since moving to the UK may not be as tall as those I left behind in the US, but I’ve enjoyed them more due to their relative proximity.
I will admit that apart from being grateful for family this is rather a silly list. It would take too many words for me to write about all the serious things. I often think about them as I walk the footpaths near my home. Sometimes I will stop to gaze across the fields that dip down and then rise toward the Downs, and I will think about all I have to be grateful for. I am thankful to live here amidst such beautiful scenery. I am thankful for family and friends both near and far. I am thankful for the good news at the end of a terrible health scare. I am thankful for the healing of grief and the renewal of joy. I am thankful for challenges faced and overcome. I am thankful for this life. It is a life shared with my best friend, the one who makes wherever we are together my home.
Thank you Mr. H. Most of all, I am thankful for you.
“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” ~ G.K. Chesterson