Oh. Right. Blog.
It’s not that I got bummed out and completely off track that I haven’t posted in the last couple of weeks, it’s that I got on track, or on a path towards a track. And for that I am so grateful.
It’s Thanksgiving Monday in Canada. No better day to talk about gratitude. Not that we should save up all our gratitude beans (and turkey) and gorge on them only once or twice a year, but the intensity of millions of people doing something that creates positive energy in the world, at a time when the world is desperate for gratitude, humility and any equivalent of turkey, lifts us all to a better place.
Remember learning to skip double dutch? Those moments when you stood on the outside as the two ropes whizzed by, wondering how and when to jump in without getting all tangled? That’s where I’ve been with writing about gratitude. I’ve been standing (or lying) on the outside for months and months watching people’s kindness and generosity fly by so fast and so unwavering, that my “Thank you so much” felt lost in the whizzing sound.
Thank you. The sentiment seems so tiny.
It’s not that I never thought about gratitude before, but when you go through the shit I’ve been through over the last year, and you’ve been primarily on the receiving end of peoples’ gifts, it’s a whole different thing.
I was recently at a Jewish funeral. At the graveside, it is a mitzvah for all mourners to shovel dirt into the grave until the casket is completely covered. One is not to hand the shovel directly to the next person as if to say Here, it’s your turn, but rather stick it back in the dirt. Each person makes their own gesture. It is said to be the truest gift because it cannot be reciprocated. It is the last thing you can do for a person and expect nothing in return.
I’m not comparing my illness to a funeral, and while I hope never to have to return the favours I have received – I know I will. That’s life. Gifts can be reciprocated, but my experience has been that people don’t step up in order to get something back, they do it out of humanity, love, care.
When I first started thinking about how to say thank you (and the reason it felt so hard is because there’s no way to do it that can come close to capturing how every little gesture has made me feel) I wanted to make a list of names. But naming is fraught. What order? What if you forget someone? Yet I wanted to see each one written, and out there in the world. I can’t name everyone. I wouldn’t even know where to go looking for all the names. Some I’ve never heard. Folks I’ve never met have stood by, listened, and wished me well while I made my way through.
And then there are all the people I know and love and like deeply. Friends and family. (Like thank you, those words also feel completely inadequate.) Friends and family who have come to every appointment, every scan, every invasive test, heard every piece of bad news and less bad news and good news, made me tons and tons of food, brought me antioxidants, held me and held me and held me while I cried, listened to me hit rock bottom and hugged or shoved me back up for air, treated my aching body, read me, edited me, researched my cancer and my options, knitted me scarves and bikini bottoms, sent me flowers, made me cards, told me my writing has made a difference, told me their own stories, sent me poetry, and songs and books and cancer-fighting pendants, messages, thoughts, prayers, blessings and wishes for health and strength. Made me laugh.
Made me laugh.
And then there are my dear cancer pals, my unexpected friends with whom I’ve joined hands and shared fears and resentments and Fuck you cancer you fucking fucker.
Gratitude is huge and small and huge. If I were to keep writing for days and weeks I could never put it into words because the true gifts we receive are the ones there is no way and no need to acknowledge or return.
I am reminded daily by my friend Lisa, whom I’ve never met, who’s living with the ravages of stage four “beast” cancer, to be grateful also for myself, for every moment of freedom in my life.
"If you can start the day and look at all of the things you want or need to do and make those choices based solely on what you feel like doing rather than what you physically can do... That is what I long to have again. That is freedom."