I am happily jumping on this November Gratitude bandwagon. In addition to my wholehearted belief that “what you appreciate appreciates,” this whole November Gratitude Diaries movement has provided me with a path to emerge from my cocoon of the last several months—to share my thoughts with the social media world. For the rest of November, I plan to post frequently about the people, places, and things for which I am most profoundly grateful.
Although I have an almost-daily writing habit, the truth is that I compulsively draw a thick bright line between The Personal Writing (journals, poems, and copious color-coded post-its) and The Professional Writing (brand guidelines, fundraising appeals, mission statements, and most recently--cover letters!). It is a source of great anxiety for me to let that line smudge or erase. So, obviously, first quick thanks goes to Eleanor Roosevelt: “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
And here we go.
November 1st. My dad.
My dad died on the last day of February this year. He was surrounded by his children, and we watched him literally wave good-bye as he left his body behind. No matter the unfinished conversations, the unresolved conflicts, the generational or religious divides, I do know this: my dad loved me.
From Gloria Steinem to Malala Yousafzai, I’m struck by how many women leaders thank and attribute their most important values to fathers who were ahead of their time. My curiosity for learning, fascination with language, and love of adventure are all thanks to my dad as well. He shared the duties of child-rearing and chores alongside my mother. He cooked our meals and was a kind of Depression-era “foodie” (does Tang count as "food?"). He took his children for walks, pointing out the names of plants and creatures. He was a scientist. He made up bedtime stories about a little girl who lived in his childhood home on the prairie of Alberta, Canada, who was summoned by woodland creatures when the Chinook winds blew. He was a professor of agriculture. He was a cowboy poet. He always made me feel he wanted to know me, even though we were far from perfect at knowing and understanding each other. We shared the longing to know.
Both my dad and my mom created a home that was safe for people from all walks of life and all cultures. I think of this now in these times of great divisions, fear, and shutting-out of “the other.” Our home was a place where most nights dinner was hosting a mystery guest or a family of guests, from church or university, or just in the neighborhood. Our basement was often occupied by graduate students or families getting on their feet, or visitors from faraway lands—China, Thailand, Nigeria, Finland. Helping others was just a given.
From my father and my mother both, I learned the human mandate of inviting people in. I’ll end this piece with a favorite poem by Rumi which serves as a perfect reminder to me—of my father's curious spirit, and of the open courage I want to draw upon as I share my vulnerable stories of gratitude with the wider world.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Especially on this November 1st, Mexican holiday of Dia de Muertos, I send thanks to all my guides from beyond.