It is that time of year again, when we pause and ponder the things in life that we are thankful for. The Pilgrims started this idea, and presidents have reinforced it by proclamation ever since. Imagine that, in times of national distress, war, even pandemics, we are encouraged and unified in a single effort to gather, embrace, love, give. And eat. All the while offering thanks.
In the age of COVID-19, these efforts have been stymied a bit. But we are intrepid, as a nation, and we will prevail. The holidays will not be stolen from us and we will find ways to make it work. And we should, because giving thanks is a vital part of our national spirit and a critical element of our spirituality.
But I got to thinking of the rest of the year, of the days and weeks that occupy the other months on the calendar. Over the past few years I have been presented with some challenges, from sickness and surgery, from mortality to death, from loss to gain. And I have learned to be thankful for it all because it is all part of my life. Every element, every event, every calamity has brought me another step along the path of growth, to being who I can be. And all that stuff also led me to seek good counsel on how to sort it all out, how to make it all make sense, how to keep my sanity and keep looking up.
I was talking one day with my therapist (counselor, psychologist, doctor, helper – call him what you will) about my routine in life, now that I’m retired. He stressed that routine is good, a useful tool to keep life sorted and active. We are not talking about OCD level of order (I don’t write a daily schedule, like when I worked) but rather the rhythm of life, the ebb and flow of daily activity. The small purposes that keep us from becoming moribund.
I realized that, while looking for the big purpose and looking at the big picture, it was in the daily current that I found the most to be thankful for. It turns out the routine is where the blessings lie, life itself is what I am thankful for.
I am probably rambling, so let me offer this look inside the daily life in my house, a life of routine thanks.
I wake up, usually from a good night’s sleep, and my first thought is, literally, “thank you Jesus”. Now, I am not a religious person (I am a faithful person, but that’s another discussion for another time). But I am struck every morning by the reality that I am alive, my body is moving, everything seems to be working. I am thankful for the CPAP machine, a therapy that I resisted for years, that gives me a solid and safe night of real sleep. And I am thankful for that lovely lady sleeping next to me, as I hear her breathing and maybe starting to stir.
I get up and head to the kitchen to put on coffee. I love the smell of coffee, and the preparation is my routine – Diana never makes the coffee (she doesn’t appreciate the level of strength it needs to be). While it is brewing, I have a seat and prepare my first Facebook post, a scripture with a graphic.
Coffee done, it’s time for breakfast. We spend the next hour or so perusing social media, news, checking email, responding to text messages. We share amusing things we see. It is as routine as it can be, and then Diana always draws it to a close with “Let’s pray,” So we do, making our petitions known to God as we were instructed, and giving thanks for our kids and health and abundance.
And that is our morning routine, with little variation. We pursue our own interests or activities or chores for the rest of the morning. I usually have a little project to attend to of some sort, maybe some records to pack up before the mail runs. I have been getting in the routine of walking on our new treadmill, helping to keep the ticker ticking. Almost always we meet on the front porch for a cup of coffee, enjoying the view of the mountain. And each other. Thank you, Jesus, indeed.
We always eat lunch together. It’s always time well spent, with no agenda. We catch up on whatever we may each have experienced in our morning pursuits. It’s not a big deal, but it is routine. I am thankful not only that we can spend this time together (when we worked, we almost never could) but that we want to.
Diana likes to puzzle, read books, work on files, and watch “bad” TV shows (i.e. something I will not watch). I like to listen to music, work in the shop, try to accomplish a little chore or two. We have our own routines because we are our own people.
We usually end up together in the late afternoon to read. Now, reading in the middle of the day is a pure luxury, something I would have never done while working. It is almost decadent, and I am thankful that I am currently reading book number 40 (!) for this year. I was shooting for 50, but when I worked I read maybe three or four.
This is a secret of our success. We spend the hour before dinner enjoying a bottle of red wine. Almost always it is in water, in the summer out in the pool, this time of year in the hot tub. I select some relaxing music, likely of the smooth jazz variety, and we sip and float and talk. About our hopes and dreams. About what is going on in the world. About aches and pains. About our kids. After 36 years we still have plenty to talk about, and I am so thankful for that. I cannot imagine having nothing to say.
I am the “chief cook and bottle washer” as my dad used to say, so I make dinner, sometimes a delightful and laborious creation, sometimes a frozen pot pie. It does not matter to Diana, as she is most decidedly NOT the “chief cook” (even though she is a retired Navy Chief who, ironically, was a Mess Management Specialist early in her career). She will clean up the mess, though. We are both thankful for that yin and yang, the shared workload and division of labor. She gets to eat; I do not have to clean up! We always watch “our show” whatever that may be at the time. This is typically the only hour of TV I watch during the day – I am not a TV snob; I just don’t want to be dependent on that for filling my time.
I’m usually out to my music room for some “serious” listening. I have the equipment needed to enjoy good sound, and I usually have an album in mind or a theme to follow. I will enjoy a glass of wine and some M&Ms (peanut is my preference). Meanwhile, Diana will focus on her latest puzzle. She only does 1000 piece puzzles and has her own routine, space, and gear to do that. I do not understand that hobby, but she isn’t too sure about mine, either. So, it works. And we are immensely thankful that after a life of work we can enjoy our mild interests and hobbies.
We both like to read, so without fail we read together in bed. Last night a gripping Jack Reacher book kept me enthralled and flipping pages until 12:15, but that’s not normal. I would say we rarely make it to 11:00 PM.
And as I turn out the light and strap on my CPAP mask, I give thanks for the wonderful routine that is my current life.
I know, boring, right?
I have lived the high-stress life, and for quite a few years, too, in commission sales. So has my wife, as a teacher and Sailor. And while we still look for meaningful ways to be a part of life on Earth, the “big picture” stuff, we are thankful that retirement has brought us to this place. And we are cognizant of this idea from our faith:
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
I shared all that to just say this:
Be thankful in all things, every day, in every way.
It is great that we have a focused holiday for society to pause and give collective thanks. But it’s the daily life, the little things, the small joys, the people you love, the things you are privileged to do, the activities you are still capable of doing, all those things are worth giving thanks for. Thanksgiving should be routine, as natural as the breath in your lungs.
I hope in the current pandemic you are finding your way, and I hope you are finding a way to make it work. But mostly, I hope you are finding a way to give thanks, for what you have, for who you are, for the people you love, for your family and friends. I hope you find the place in your heart for these words to ring true:
“And now let the weak say, “I am strong”
Let the poor say, “I am rich
Because of what the Lord has done for us”
Give thanks with a grateful heart
Give thanks to the Holy One
Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son” Don Moen/2013
Enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday. But just remember to give routine thanks. Because a routine is good for the head, and giving thanks is good for the soul.