Thanks, but no thanks

I am a big fan of giving thanks, specific appreciations, and expressing delight. I set up meetings so that their last five minutes or so are devoted to creating the opportunity to say what we learned from each other or what we appreciated. I find that my work is best when I wrap my mind in what people appreciate rather than what they regret.

dscn9972Sometimes the young people who help me with yard work in the summer take a while to get on board with my love of appreciation. The hard-working boy who helped this summer ended his first day with a frozen smile as I said, “Let’s talk a few minutes as we wait for your ride. What did you learn or appreciate about our time today? I can start…” I thanked him for his hard work and for the clear ways he thought about each of the tasks we completed. By the end of the summer, he just walked over to the chairs where we had these conversations and was ready to start. One day he actually blushed with pride at my appreciation of his math skills in determining how many bags of gravel to buy for a project.

Appreciative Inquiry also fascinates me. I confess that my experiments with it have been at once fruitful and difficult to maintain over time. I plan to go back to this approach in my work and daily life again and again, hoping that it may stick in my repertoire. 

tumblr_oh0whhzlyu1uwlc2io1_540This fall the New York Times ballet reviewer wrote about a City Ballet season in a manner that spoke to me so well that I felt transported, not to the theater at Lincoln Center, but rather to the plaza outside where my late husband and I would talk and talk about everything from the arch of a foot and the sheen of a toe shoe to the lighting that ended precisely at the edge of the stage. We’d drill into the lifts, turns, and always, always, always the rarely noticed men’s hands. 

Just recalling those moments could make me weep right now — not from the loss, but from the sheer beauty of the memory itself.

So, it is against that backdrop that I surprise myself with my own growing dislike of Thanksgiving as a holiday. 

  • First, I must admit that I dislike turkey most of the time. There is rarely enough cranberry sauce or gravy to compensate for the dry slab of white meat. 
  • Second, I dislike the awkwardness of giving thanks to someone or something not known to me. (Appreciate the cook? Easy. Thank an imaginary friend in the sky for cranberry bogs? Hmmm.) Over our decades of holiday gatherings, Paul and I managed to morph our dinner opening to this: “Thanks for being here. We are glad you came.” 
  • Third, this holiday always aches a bit to me because of its groaning tables for some and growling bellies for others. Can I do the gymnastics needed to give thanks for the inequity that supports the first at the expense of the second?
  • Fourth, the fantasy of the origins of our national holiday and our nation is beyond challenging. In the growing attention paid to the legacy of slavery, we still are managing to ignore the legacy of genocide. Parents of preschoolers vying for their child to get the part of Miles Standish give me shudders.
  • Fifth, this holiday likely more than most captures our national awkward discussions about sexual orientation, gender expression, sex, and age. This year we get to add more to the list of unmentionables: Donald Trump.

DinnerClearly, I could go on and on with this list, but adding more only distances me — a fan of giving thanks and experiencing delight — from a holiday so highly associated with these very practices. 

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