I was 27 years old and working as a consultant when I decided it was time for a job change. Maybe it was something in the water we drank which had business school students subliminally programmed to move on three years in.
A few days before I was set to leave, a secretary who had done all my word processing came to me with two gift-wrapped boxes in hand. “I want you to pick your favorite,” she said. Caught by surprise, I followed her wish and opened the boxes to find two different Dooney & Bourke purses from which to choose. They were expensive, and she was a single mom, living in New York and getting by on a meager salary.
“Deb,” I said, “You are my favorite. I thank you, but please return these lovely purses.” From various conversations we had shared, I knew how pressed she was to make ends meet. She ended up being just a little more insistent than me, and so I reluctantly accepted her generous present.
While I enjoyed the purse for many years and still treasure it as a keepsake, its biggest gift was the lesson it taught. Generosity bestowed by those who don’t have confers special meaning. It became my reminder to give without waiting for “when” I could give. While I genuinely did not want to accept Deb’s gift, I loved its lesson.
Why can’t I shake this story from my mind this November? I think there is a corollary I am experiencing that derives from Deb’s generosity. Just as it can be hard to give, which makes the giving more special, it can be hard to find our gratitude, which makes its finding more meaningful. With Thanksgiving on my mind, gratitude is my emotional centerpiece on a table of splendor.
In previous years, describing the splendor came easy. Last year was trickier, but I found my way. I called out new societal norms with advancements in telemedicine and online education that broadened access to those who could benefit most.
I thanked our children for putting themselves in the driver’s seat as they watched over parents and preached COVID-safe behaviors. It represented a changing of the guard and was deeply meaningful though occasionally irritating.
I took comfort in American history as I read “America 1908” by Jim Rasenberger. There were interesting parallels, and it deepened my conviction that history was on our side.
But this year, finding my gratitude has been harder. COVID-19 still haunts us. I’ve noticed a meanness that pervades, a growing intolerance and our shortened attention span in a world that gets only more complex. Never has it been more important to focus, especially in the face of social media’s distractions. Alas, that is not the 2021 we are living in.
Inspired by Deb, though, I found my gratitude when it was quite hard to find. It felt true and not fabricated to make myself feel good.
I start with being thankful for the scientists who developed the vaccines that will eventually enable a post-Corona virus world. Delta was a setback, but as we adjust our expectations and realize that we will most likely be battling some form of COVID for eternity, the path for progress largely lies in changing our attitude.
I am thankful that my 92-year old father-in-law found the will to fight cancer and that medicine offered the therapeutics to help him. That means he can continue to guide my selection of which Boston Symphony Orchestra concerts to attend because he remains my classical music guru.
I am thankful that we have Teddy, our three-year-old Goldendoodle, to soften the loss of Nemo, who went to doodle heaven this spring. Nemo had a raving fan club, and I was its CEO. Fortunately, Nemo helped shape Teddy to take over.
My deepest gratitude comes from being introduced to grandparenthood this year. As trite as it sounds, this little bundle of love fills our hearts with joy and provides hope for a brighter future.
Finally, I thank my mom, whose attitude laid the foundation for my gratitude. She lived 92 years of positivity, and when she passed, her children knew where to pick up. We have to internalize her cheer.
Yes, I persisted and thankfully found how I could honor our holiday tradition and sing with a full heart, as is our custom, the Shaker song, “ ‘Tis a gift to be simple.”