Thanksgiving Grace and Gratitude

It’s been forty years since I left the motherland and I have only partaken of the traditional Thanksgiving turkey celebration meal a couple handful of times over those decades. Sometimes I travelled back to family. At other times, I celebrated with other ex-patriots in England or Ireland. This does not, however, prevent me from contemplating gratitude on an annual basis. That is bone marrow deep. I don’t miss football games, parades, marathons or anxiety over gravy making. But my husband has often commented that having an annual day for gratitude is A Good Thing. So this morning, instead of making stuffing and pumpkin pie in preparation for the Great Feast tomorrow, I contemplated current events and gratitude…and the state of grace.

I write in Ireland when the L word has not been spoken, but rising infection rates are causing government to somberly talk of ‘extra measures’ and a plea for office workers to go back to working from home. With the riots against increased Covid restrictions across the continent this past weekend they are taking a softly-softly approach. Now Northern Ireland is also asking folk to work at home…but humans are social animals and after so much isolation they appear reluctant to give up on their face-to-face life. And, it has to be admitted, the seclusion and isolation has had a big impact on the collective mental and physical health. High Covid infection means elective and non-urgent procedures get delayed. For want of ICU beds a cancer patient’s delayed surgery may mean they get a terminal sentence.

Ireland has reportedly one of the highest take up rates of the vaccine available to eligible people. But the vaccine is no silver bullet to this viruses. Keeping our distance and wearing masks indoors is going to have to be a feature of our lives for some time to come.

Everything takes four times as long to get accomplished under Covid measures. Everyone is frustrated and sometimes that bubbles over into anger. No one is immune from this pandemic symptom. I suspect even saints are having a hard time of it these days to hang on to their haloes.

The great themes of 2021 have been Safety and Liberty. We have seen time and again great migrations of people fleeing war, civil unrest, the threat of gang rape, torture and death. Who can blame a family for taking to the road in the hope that they have a better chance of surviving. They seek a place of safety. Just as those of us in our various Lockdowns tell others in virtual messages to ‘Stay Safe.’ We do not just want to stay well., we want to stay alive from a virus stalking the globe.

On the other hand, there are the ones I think of as the Patrick “Give me liberty or give me death” Henry Brigade. Yes, civil liberties are under threat. But, for the time being, the virus is winning the Four Horseman of the Acopalyse Steeple Chase. Medical staff are quitting because the stress of dealing with this virus has stretched human and institution to snapping point. Even if the virus does not kill you, whether you choose to vaccinate or not, the more freely and widely we mingle we may asymptomatically spread it and unwittingly harm someone. That is a huge responsibility. We may hold the fate of a stranger in a breath we exhale.

Little wonder we are anxious…

Who is not vexed to the point of exhaustion with not seeing loved ones, or having a celebration with more than a handful of people, with the one with the cold masked in the corner. Love now comes with a health and safety risk assessment attached it seems. How much have we mingled before meeting indoors? Who does not want to hug? How many lateral flow tests can you do before your sinuses rebel? How many lockdowns before the economy, if not the health service, falls down?

My Thanksgiving meditations swung from the collective energy around to St. Brigid (random, I know!) and then it settled upon grace.

Gratitude and Grace

The grace for the bread we break.
The grace of the friendships we shape.
The grace of time to create.
The grace of the lucky escape.

The grace when we first awake.
The grace with fading heart ache.
The grace to hold and contain.
The grace, feather light, unexplained.

To partake. To not forsake. To sustain.
Just the same, grace and gratitude remain.



I wish you grace and its filling joy thi Thanksgiving.

Grit, Resilience and Gratitude

Happy Thanksgiving. I don’t have turkey for dinner here in Ireland, but I am making my own version of Hoppin’ John. I also baked a sweet potato pie. While all my blood relatives are in the States I did manage to have a socially distanced meet up with my Irish friends who are family in the Carrick on Shannon Farmer’s Market today. We needed to see each other’s faces after a couple months of only having phone and message contact. So I am grateful to all those people patiently queuing six feet apart and wearing masks outdoors unless they were sipping a coffee to keep the chill out of our bones. The bangharda (woman police officer) really had very little to do other than be a discreetly watchful presence on the sidelines.

And isn’t it strange how you can still recognise people even when they are masked? Maybe it is mostly voice recognition, but I did correctly identify someone who I have not bumped into for years! And he spotted me, though my husband thinks the accent and voice volume probably announces my presence.

Peter and I counted ourselves to be blessed to live in the part of Ireland with the lowest infection rate and with people who have kept with the programme. We also are blessed to live in a beautiful part of the country with plenty of nature for exercise within 5 km of our home. Having a rural setting and low population density is no guarantee of low infection rate, so thank you all you vigilant residents of West Cavan and Leitrim.

I am also very grateful to the band of Word Alchemists who have Zoomed twice weekly, many since September. They have provided me with social engagement, intellectual stimulation, and a little bit of income. I am also grateful to all those who have subscribed to my December e-course A Light in the Window:  A 21 Day Journey Together Through December’s Dark Days.

Another thank you needs to go out to Cavan Arts Office. They have been running Zoom workshops to support artist’s spirits during Covid 19. Lots of our projects have had to be cancelled or re-configured. I attended one facilitated by Louise Gartland of Artonomy on Grit and Resilience. This pandemic has had us dig deep to discover what qualities of endurance we have to call on. We also looked at how we can nurture our resilience, to get up when we are down. Just this week I have been able to see the truth in challenges being opportunities. I had a 2020 Artist Development Award project for work in schools. Well, the virus and no vaccine put paid to that plan. But I came up with another idea, partnered with another organisation I am connected to, and we found out yesterday that we got the €6,000 grant of a project I will curate. It is far more ambitious than my original plan and its scope is wider. So, thanks for the challenges that turn out to be fun opportunities. More news about that later.

Fortitude was not a word that came up on the Zoom whiteboard when we talked about resilience and grit, but in hindsight I think it should have been there. Here is a revised poem originally posted on Thanksgiving 2018.

Fortitude

I thank you ancestors for
your spine and pluck,
for your knowing of when to leave,
the courage to try your luck.
 
I thank you ancestors for
your endurance of marathon runners,
for keeping some faith when
hope hoisted up its anchor.
 
I thank you ancestors for
my very blood and bone.
I thank you thousands who loved,
and those that felt all alone.
 
I thank you ancestors for
bringing me here, for the going through,
the getting safely passed over,
all of you inside me helixing.
 
I thank you ancestors for
feeling your fears, for your shadows,
for this task of mining the golden vein
in even the most chaotic fandangos.
 
I thank you ancestors for
now you may rest in peace,
bestowing on descendants the tasks 
like rescuing Jason’s golden fleece.
 
I thank you ancestors for
your quests and heroic journeys,
for the tiny triumphs and huge betrayals,
for your centuries’ continual re-sorcery.
 
I thank you ancestors for
the heart that is able to forgive,
the memory that will never forget,
and – most of all – you own will to live.
 
Copyright © Bee Smith 2020

Even if you are eating a turkey club sandwich in your pjs, you are not alone. We are all connected somehow and someway. We can thrive even in seclusion.

May you feel all your blessings in your very marrow today and everyday.

Some Sunday Joy

It has been a fruitful week. The Sunday Weekly Poem reflects a moment in a week that is known for Thanksgiving, even if you don’t live in a country where it is a national holiday. It is also the first Sunday of Advent even if you are not Christian. Last year I wrote a sequence of Advent poems for each Sunday for those who perform this mindful ritual, whether they are Christians who light the Advent wreath candles or pagans observing the Sunwheel each Sunday before Winter Solstice. This is what my 2018 Advent wreath looked like https://sojourningsmith.blog/2018/12/01/advent/.

The first Sunday of Advent’s candle is for hope. But I was so startled by a quiet flush of joy this week that it is my theme for the weekly poem. Gratitude, hope, joy…we need to celebrate these in the dark days of winter. Even if they only appear as glimpses.

The Morning After Thanksgiving

Staring out my window I am stabbed by
a joy in the smallest of things:
how the stars wink in those minutes before dawn
begins to pink the horizon,
how when winter's brilliant sun breaks
and shines it outlines the intricate delicacy
of the hoar frost mantilla yarrow and hogweed wear,
how light stretches itself lazily in a slow promenade
in soft soled slippers across the field, melting
the frost very, very slowly and, also,
how it persists all day on the lane's edges
all crisp and starched as an altar boy's surplice.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Featured image Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash

Gratitude for Fortitude

The illuminated screen said 5:55am. In the land of my birth, it was only just Thanksgiving. Even though I won’t have turkey (although I imagined a ghostly whiff of some roasting while I made my first tea of the day), candied yam or pumpkin pie, I still preserve the ritual of giving thanks on Thanksgiving. And my mind turns to my own migrant ancestors. Some went off in leaky ships on a long transatlantic journey back in the early decades of the seventeenth century.. More recently my namesake German grandma passed through Ellis Island with her parents and toddler sister. Americans are migrants and nomads. Even Native Americans had to travel across the frozen Bering Strait to migrate into the North American continent. We all had to hoof it to get there one way or the other.- on foot, by dog sled, corracle, long ship, clipper, or airplane.

My poetry practice for this dawn’s early light takes its cue from the gratitude theme. Ideally, that should be more than one day a year because those who practice gratitude tend to be happier and kinder. Thanksgiving is probably the major family gathering feast day on the calendar. So it seemed right to conjure family, no matter how remote, on this day.

Fortitude

I thank you ancestors for
your spine and pluck,
for your knowing of when to leave,
the courage to try your luck.
 
I thank you ancestors for
your endurance of marathon runners,
for keeping some faith when
hope hoisted up its anchor.
 
I thank you ancestors for
my very blood and bone.
I thank you thousands who loved,
and those that felt all alone.
 
I thank you ancestors for
bringing me here, for the going
through and getting passed over,
for my own bodily strands helixing.
 
I thank you ancestors for
feeling your fears, for your shadows,
for this task of mining the golden vein
in even the most chaotic fandangos.
 
I thank you ancestors for
now you may rest in peace,
bestowing on descendants the tasks
like rescuing Jason’s golden fleece.
 
I thank you ancestors for
your quests and heroic journeys,
for the tiny triumphs and huge betrayals,
for your centuries’ continual re-sorcery.
 
I thank you ancestors for
the heart that can allow us to forgive,
the memory that will never forget,
and – most of all – you own will to live.
 
Copyright © Bee Smith 2018


Everyday Exultations

I was browsing some WordPress blogs I follow and I was impressed by the suggestion of A.M. Pine 100 Bits of Gratitude to expend some energy by concentrating on what fills you with gratitude. I am still in the full flush of a multitude of birthday well-wishing yesterday, so this particularly resonates. I still keep a kind of gratitude journal, although it is more a visual record than a word journal. I will paste in cards from friends and loved ones that kindles a particular thanksgiving in my memory.  You can see a picture of the gratitude journal I collaged in this post. Gratitude Journaling and Thanksgiving.  I have a feeling that these practices may become useful tools in the weeks ahead.

This segued into another phrase I encountered while I was perusing last Saturday’s Guardian this morning (yes, I have become my mother and am way behind with reading the current affairs media. I thought this was shocking when I was young. I guess I am no longer officially young!) The phrase was ‘everyday exultations’, which is perhaps a byproduct or kissing cousin to gratitude. At any rate these were the sparks for today’s poetry practice. Incidentally, I have completed six week!

 

Everyday Exultations

 

a sound cooking pot

rising bread dough

a voice with a song

the company of a wren at the window

 

this is the somehow of the someway

the human race gets up to meet and greet

every day

also with jokes, some word play

 

delight is stone on flint for the candle wick

can turn around a curse

heals the sick

greases the axis of the universe

 

the line of thousands stretches way far back

so I could one day become a daughter

some bread, some water, a sound cooking pot

the blessing of a wren to share the crumbs

 

Copyright © Bee Smith 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured Image:

Photo by Jan Meeus on Unsplash

Gratitude Journaling and Thanksgiving

“Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse.” – Henry Van Dyke

This November has had the theme of gratitude from the start and well in advance of the American feast of Thanksgiving that will be marked tomorrow. Earlier this month, my friend and creative colleague, Morag Donald of Crafting Your Soul, co-hosted a gratitude journaling workshop with me. Combining creative writing exercises, guided meditation and craft work, we led participants to collage covers of A5 notebooks or scrapbooks where conscious note can be made of all those acts of kindness that occur in our life. I chose a scrapbook where I can paste in images to remind me of all the myriad miraculous events and details that populate one’s days. So far birthday cards, chocolate wrappers, newspaper snippets and headlines, and more have been pasted in. I also use words, but I keep it brief. It is also acts, in part, as an aide memoire.

There is anecdotal evidence that the practice of gratitude journalling greatly contributes to a feeling of happiness and well-being. Over the past decades there are any number of books and articles written encouraging people to embrace the practice of gratitude. Which is really a reminder to not take for granted all the acts of kindness, random or deliberate, from strangers, friends, even institutions.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, that great feast of family, food, football (for some) and the official opening of the Christmas shopping season in the USA on Black Friday.  I am long gone as an ex-patriot and there won’t be any turkey and cranberry sauce for us tomorrow. (Sadly, my Irish husband does not understand my liking for pumpkin and all kinds squash, succotash and sweet potatoes; this hampers any meal planning if there are no more than the two of us eating in on Thanksgiving Day.)  Since I have to post Christmas presents across the Atlantic, most have already been bought, wrapped and despatched already.

There is also the issue of celebrating a narrative that does not admit the impact of the colonising of North America and consequent displacement and genocide of its original inhabitants. Some maternal ancestors were early Quaker settlers in the Burlington, New Jersey region. At least I can say I come from people who paid the natives for their land, which was a rare occurance back in the day. The Lenape chief Ockanickon is buried in the Burlington Friends Meeting cemetary, reflecting the integration of Europeans and indigenous peoples at the beginning of the settlement. But even Quakers were slave holders in the 18th century, so I cannot be certain that all my ancestors were always on the right side of history on all questions of morality. The Burlington Quaker mystic, John Woolman, had his metanoia regarding slavery as an apprentice clerk when he was required to write out a bill of sale for the purchase of a slave. He did so just the once; he approached his employer afterwards and said he could not, in good conscience, do so ever again. His employer may not have comprehended his morality, but he did respect his ‘light’, as Quakers would call it.

So how shall I mark Thanksgiving 2017? I will be having a routine mammogram free, courtesy of Breast Check Ireland. I will cherish our old dog who is as loving as ever even in an illness that will ultimately earn her angel wings. I will bless the names of our vets, Sinead and Thomas,  who care for her.

But I will also bless those cranky colonial ancestors who braved leaky wooden sailing vessels to migrate to another world, circa 1630-something. I will be grateful that I inherited their itchy feet.

I will bless them for their idealism and their calculated risk taking. I will be thankful that I have inherited both their tendency to flinty morality and tender conscience.

But above all, I bless and thank the Lenape people, who welcomed my ancestors, sheltered them in the caves on the banks of the Delaware River, who taught them the ways of squash, corn and bean, who helped them survive in a harsher climate than they knew in their old world. For this I am thankful, for without them, there would have been no descendents born, wed, bred.

What I am most thankful for this Thanksgiving is connection. For the kinds of connections that can be made in poetry.  Also, the human kind of connections, all the little heaps and piles of kindness.  Thought of in that way, lineages are wrought from the seemingly random decisions to behave kindly, to help another human survive another day, to live and to love.

I realise that not everyone has had such a benign experience or  even expectation of life. But, I pray ‘May Love cast out Fear’ daily. Perhaps, my ancestors did, too. That is my hope this Thanksgiving.