Finding My New Thankful

Living in a Season of Thanks

I have no idea who follows me on this journey, and to be honest, attracting followers isn’t why I write in this corner of the universe. For me, it’s about a spirit of sharing, of learning, of connection, and of care.

I’m principally motivated by the desire to care for others, both on- and offline, and most days I’d stake my identity on that claim. But whoops, I messed up pretty badly, didn’t I? I’ve been neglecting this corner of the universe, and for that, I apologize. More on that later. Right now, by way of hellos and reintroductions, I’d like to honor your presence by breaking my silence with a post that’s as heartfelt as it is timely.

Before we get in too deep, it may help to know that I love the holidays. If you know me IRL, you know this already. I’ve probably talked your ears off about it on more than one occasion. And if you know this blog, you also know I’ve written about my love for the season over here. It’s been about a year since I annoyed the ever-living-you-know-what out of you on this topic, so in the spirit of the season, I thought, what better time to make my return? Ha.

In all seriousness, with the holidays providing opportunities galore for stock-taking and thanks-giving, deep down I knew it was time to do this work again. But here’s the thing. I also want this to be a season of actual giving on the blog, and the “gift” I’d like to give is the reminder that YOU ARE VALUED and YOU ARE LOVED. Whoa there with the Big Feelings, Ryan! Yeah, I can hear some of you reacting to that already, but hear me out.

Oh, the holidays! The strings of lights. The casseroles. The roasts and cookies and festive tunes. It’s all so wonderful, isn’t it? It is, it most definitely is. We dedicate ourselves to celebrations and social gatherings and reminding ourselves just how good we have it, no matter what we have (or haven’t), from the time the last piece of Halloween candy gets claimed, all the way until we ring in a new year. And that is wonderful. But it’s also sort of strange. Why do we limit our work in cherishing ourselves and others to a few short months per year? No, really. Why do we do this?

I grew up Catholic, and because of this, I’m programmed to find value and meaning in ordinary things, the things I’ve called “the littles” over many posts in a previous project. Lately, the notion of giving everyday thanks has really nagged at me, and while I won’t be reopening my last blog anytime soon, I do believe this is a sensible time to briefly resurrect its message.

On that note, I’d like to share a story, if you’ll permit. First, a short but serious warning that it trends heavier than some of my other posts, so those who are especially tender-hearted may feel completely free to “hug goodbye” now, with the knowledge that you’re cared about by at least one person. I hope your holiday season is glorious and filled with as many physical, emotional, and spiritual treasures as your heart desires. I mean that, truly, and I hope we find a reason to cross paths again.

For those who’ve elected to keep reading, allow me to take you back a few years, to a season where gratitude was something I took for granted, and where “living in a season of thanks” was, embarrassingly, essentially limited to the holidays and major life milestones.

Warm Hearts, Warm Nights

On a late-spring night in 2018, I was trying not to hyperventilate on the bathroom floor. Two lines had just presented themselves on a plastic wand before me. I was terrified. I always knew I’d wanted to be a mom. In younger years, I’d planned out a family with four kids, all by the age of 30. But there I was, late 20s, about to join the mommy club for the very first time — and absolutely positive that I was.not.ready. 

The rest of that night stands out so clearly. I’ve memorized it like you memorize favorite songs or movie scripts. It took mere seconds for me to get up, place the wand on the counter, and get myself outside for some fresh air. The dog and I barely made it around the block before I asked her if she was ready to be a “puppy sister,” because her “puppy mama” was going to need some serious coaching on the matter of this giant life change. She looked up at me, Cheshire grin on her perfectly whiskered face, and kept trotting along down the sidewalk.

It was that moment, right there, when I realized this was all going to be okay. Hubs got home an hour or so later, and the poor man barely had time to breathe before I dragged him upstairs to receive The News. We were both so happy, if entirely surprised. In the weeks ahead, we did all the things couples tend to do in this season of life: go to appointments, decide how we’d eventually tell our family and friends, calculate when our little bean would join us earthside, and yeah, argue over which room we’d be willing to sacrifice for a nursery when the time came. This was bliss. Pure, unadulterated bliss. Not that I knew or appreciated it.

Please Come in, It’s Cold out There Alone

[For more resources on miscarriage, see * at end of post].

Then the worst fear of every expectant couple materialized. We found out that our bean had been called home — just not to our house. Shortly after, past the “excuse me?” I offered the nurse, past the heaving of hearts, and later, of stomachs, past the yelling and anger and sadness, past all of it, I went numb.

Unlike the weeks before, when I’d made sure to soak up every detail of life, I approached what happened next by avoiding memory-making with a resolve that can only be described as absolute. And I pulled back from everything and everyone that mattered to me. Because that’s what happens with depression.

Luckily, though it felt like a tremendous inconvenience at the time, everyone I’d tried to push away was just as resolute about ensuring I wasn’t alone. And they loved me back into wellness, on all fronts. I’ll be forever grateful for these souls — doctors, nurses, family, and friends — across clinics, cities, and even hundreds of miles. They shared information, they shared hugs, and they shared hope, some without even realizing that they did, without even realizing they are superheroes in their own right.

Find Something to be Grateful for

This brings me to the larger point I’d like to make here. Along my journey, one person reminded me of something I think we can all learn from, no matter where we fall on the sliding scale of wellness, and no matter what season we find ourselves in. The reminder went something like this:

  1. Life is hard.
  2. Your life right now is even harder.
  3. Your experience is valid and it matters.
  4. But.
  5. There are also things to be grateful for.
  6. Look around for them and you’ll start to feel a little better each day.
  7. Yeah, I know it’s hard.
  8. Keep trying.
  9. And try again the next day.
  10. And the next.
  11. And one day, you’ll find more than one thing you’re grateful for again.
  12. And about that, you’ll be glad.

You know what? That person was right. [Person, yes, you can put that down on paper].

It is so, so important to allow yourself to be present in whatever feelings or emotions you have. Without being present in them, it’s hard to process them, live with them, and move through them into the next one(s) you have. And also, if you allow these feelings and emotions to control your life, to the point where they fully eclipse the gratitude you’d otherwise have, you might look back and regret missing whatever you’ve missed.

For me, this message was a critical wakeup call. I had to completely change my mindset. From that day forward, I made a point of finding something, even just one thing, to be grateful for every single day. At first, that was nearly impossible. It looked and sounded a lot like “Today I’m grateful for my shoes.” Not particularly inspiring, I know. But with each day, it got a little easier, and the things I was thankful for became more notable, until one day, just like that person said, I was grateful for more than one thing at a time. And then, just like that person said, I was glad — really and truly glad.

Thankfulness, Anew

That realization was about a year ago. Now we’re on the doorstep of another holiday season and I’m so happy it’s here. Sure, the holidays and their trappings bring me joy — this will never change — but more importantly, it’s been another year of love, support, and growth after the “terrible, horrible” that, in its own way, inspired my change of heart.

This year, when I count my blessings, I’ll count them a little differently. Make no mistake, I’ll still be thankful for my husband, who is my rock, for my family, who is my heart, for my friends, who are my joy, and my dog, who is my hope, but I’ll also be thankful for myself. Yeah, you read that right. I’m grateful for me, for just being here, for being present, for being able to be grateful at all. Life is good.

Before we go, I’ve also got to mention how grateful I am for YOU. Like I said at the beginning of this long-winded return, the best gift any of us can receive is the knowledge that we are valued and we are loved. I hope you know that you are both. From this small corner of the universe anyway, you’re all somebodies to be grateful for, and I wish nothing but the absolute best for you this holiday season always.

*P.S. Is someone you know struggling with pregnancy loss or the passing of a child? Are you struggling with how to best support someone in this position? Here’s a starter kit, but please, please, please, #dothework and do some research on your own. I promise, while many women feel better talking about their losses, not all of them do, and either way, the last thing they want to be is your encyclopedia. 

Two Links of Interest — Go Find More!

How To Support Someone Going Through Pregnancy Loss (HuffPo)

Dealing with grief after the death of your baby (March of Dimes)

Flournoy’s “The Turner House”

I am not Black. I am not from Detroit. I only have a couple siblings. I have never experienced the death of a parent or the foreclosure of a home. But I am a reader. And I’m recommending that everyone read The Turner House by Angela Flournoy.

If you are unfamiliar with this author or her debut title, you can spend some time familiarizing yourself hereherehere, or here. That’s what a lot of you will do, I’d be willing to bet, but the best advice I can give is to locate a copy of The Turner House and read it for yourself.

Once you do, you’ll find that the work is masterful. It handles complex, emotionally-heavy subject matter with grace and accessible import, empowering the reader to reconcile competing forces like obsession and denial, failure and progress, or sickness and health, among others.

You cannot read Flournoy’s work and miss these elements. They are anything but furtive. However, as you read, I’d encourage you to ask yourself what their roles in the novel might be. See if you can do this without centering yourself. Especially if you:

  1. Are not Black.
  2. Are not from Detroit.
  3. Have only a couple siblings — or maybe no siblings at all.
  4. Have never experienced the death of a parent or the foreclosure of a home.
  5. Have no idea what “centering yourself” means (if this is the case, do the work and look it up!).

To be absolutely clear, this work is important. It tells an important story — and I’m not just talking about the one bound by a couple hundred pages in Flournoy’s novel.

Remember that.

This     work     is     important.

At least as important as you.

At least.

That’s as good a place to start as any.

Get moving.

Holiday Preview

Every year, on or about July 1st, my youngest sister texts to let me know that it’s begun. Christmas music has entered her life via every streaming device in her possession — and sometimes, simply within her reach. Gloating immediately follows. She has beaten me to the chase in welcoming the holiday season yet again.

Yes, our season lasts six months. Yes, we are both fully grown adults. We believe that if you can’t have a little fun in life, you’re missing the point. Part of that fun is extending the holiday season. You may therefore be surprised to hear that we’re both late to the party this year. Aside from noting that Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas starts during my birthday week (huzzah!), we’ve failed to advance much further. I count this among our greatest missed opportunities for 2018.

Meanwhile, the holiday season as observed by our saner compatriots draws closer by the day. In Manhattan, preparations have already begun — or so says Husband, who keeps tabs on these things for me now that my base of operations is Long Island. It feels strange that this season I won’t watch the windows come alive daily. In that sense, it’s like I’m in college again, when we’d wait until finals week to go see the city lit up with holiday cheer.

But waiting has always been my problem. I have a forward drive that cannot be stopped. Why, only last week I was struck with full holiday season readiness. By this I mean a strong appetite for cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, and the infamous, once-a-year Johnny Appleseed grace we kids grew accustomed to back home. By December, this will give way to an insatiable desire for three more things: a dusting of snow, an overabundance of brightly colored lights, and the scrawniest fir tree you can possibly find.

Alas, here we are. It’s the end of October and none of these things are to be found. Pounds of candy and what feels like a million door-bell-startled dog barks stand between me and the most wonderful time of the year. What gets me through? First, hiding or giving away ALL the candy that questionably-dressed children don’t gorge themselves on by Halloween. Then I’ll run, full tilt, toward all things resembling my preferred holidays. The trick is to give this behavior creative names so it seems like I’m well-mannered and definitely not an impatient winter shrew.

P.S. did we just find my Halloween costume? I think we did. Dibs!

The “holiday preview” meal that inspired this post is absolutely one of those immediately gratifying acts. I’m mentally skipping ahead one month. Who said we have to be bound by the calendar of socially acceptable celebration? Not me! Granted, we can’t go around doing whatever we want all the time, but I have noticed that creating opportunities for happiness, however small, goes a long way in life. That’s why, last week, Husband and I did the unthinkable. We prepared a seasonally inappropriate meal. Just one dish. Just one night. Just for the two of us. Just because. (And yeah, also because my holiday season has been here for quite awhile…).

Give the recipe a read — maybe it’s something to try when we’re all properly yule logging, caroling, and eggnogging the night away in a few short weeks!

The Eats Deets:

Recipe: Spiced Wine-Braised Short Ribs (slightly edited) from Midwest Living. I added a few more carrots than the recipe called for and threw in a pack of mushrooms for good measure.

Yield: Eight short ribs + the fixings.

Time: Half hour prep / three hour cook time.

Materials: Dutch oven, good knife, tongs. Also, if you can count it here, patience.

Pros: Your house will smell like the holidays, eliminating the need for potpourri. Also, it’s a one-pot meal that gets better the next day. And there’s wine. Need I say more?

Cons: This is not a dish for those short on time. I’d advise saving it for a weekend! Please also note that your neighbors may spontaneously show up when the scent of your A+ homemaking wafts down the street. This means your house should be clean before you start cooking. And yeah, go ahead and set out a couple more plates while you’re at it.

Would you make it again? Yes. I might wait until it’s a bit colder, but it’s a definite yes from us. We enjoyed this meal so much that silence descended upon our house from the time I plated dishes until the time Husband lovingly cleared the table. We are never silent during supper. It was just that good.

The Eats Story:

Sorry folks, I cheated and told the story first this time. But you get it. I look forward to the holidays. I sometimes eat seasonally inappropriate foods. I find joy in little things like sharing a meal with people I love. It’s not rocket science. But it matters.

And it matters for you, too. If not this recipe, this month, or this act of self care, then I hope you come to find and practice whatever makes you happy and whole, in the presence of others who support you. Get out there and find whatever makes your hearts and bellies full. I’d call that a win in any season.

The Eats Results:

As I await news from my sister that I’ve lost yet another holiday text competition, please enjoy these photos of our dinner — which could be your next meal in approximately 3.5 hours!

Thomas’ “The Hate U Give”

“What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”

Starr Carter, p. 252

The Hate U Give

If your skin is white like mine, for most of the hours of most of the days of your life, you probably won’t think about your whiteness. Why? Because the culture white America created over centuries makes it really easy not to on the daily. And, in fact, it makes it that way precisely so you don’t think about it … ideally at all. If you did, things might be very, very different.

If that makes you feel uncomfortable, good. It should. It means you’re thinking. It means you’re on the journey to awareness. And from that point, you have the potential to make a serious difference — not just make things different. Yes, that subtlety matters. A lot.

I came to this uncomfortable realization for the first time in middle school, when I was given a chance to study the life and works of two incredible Americans — the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dr. Maya Angelou. The realization I had from these studies bothered me. Not so much because the reality itself was hard to acknowledge (though it was), but because I knew, without having the vocabulary to properly vocalize this yet, that I’d have few — if any — other white people to talk about it with. So I kept my feelings and opinions close to my heart. That’s about as far as they went back then, and since then I’ve learned lesson after lesson about the importance of speaking truth to power.

I could cite countless other examples of uncomfortable realizations like this. Between school and work, across three states and six cities, and yes, also in my personal life, confronting race in a post-racial America has been challenging. This means it’s worthwhile — and ultimately, of importance. But I’m not here to give you a run-down of these moments. The point is that I have them, and yes, white America, you have them too, whether or not you’re aware of it yet.

What I am here to do — in this post, but more globally on the blog — is to remind us that life is about understanding and compassion, rather than hatred or fear. Life is about striving for justice and equity, rather than perpetuating systemic oppression (in all forms!). Put more simply, life is about learning to love, choosing to love, and then, critically, actually doing it.  And sometimes love means we must do difficult things, uncomfortable things, things we aren’t sure we’re brave enough, ready enough, smart enough, strong enough, anything enough to do. That is usually when we need to try the most.

In the spirit of that message, I’d encourage you to read Angie Thomas’s masterful work, The Hate U Give. It’s been nominated for a National Book Award. It’s a best-seller. And, if you’ve been following the news, you may have heard that it’s becoming a major motion picture. It stands on its own.

But much more importantly, and I don’t say this lightly, it’s the essence of life itself. It’s a call-to-action we all must learn to answer. Not just for one person, or one movement, or one pivotal moment in history, but all the time, everywhere, for everyone. It’s that important. Please read this book. And when you’re ready, go in peace to speak, write, act, and generally L-O-V-E. Just remember that peace doesn’t have to mean silence.

***

P.S. Interested in other voices who’ve joined this conversation?

Here’s a few. I encourage you to find more — or even better, contribute alongside them:

(1) The Atlantic’s review of T.H.U.G., available here.

(2) An interview with Angie Thomas and Balzer+ Bray/Harper Collins, her publisher. Heads-up, their chat is about 20 minutes long, but you’ll want to listen all the way through over here.

(3) A Huffington Post review, available here.

Full concept and content by Ryan Vale McGonigle

Santopolo’s “the light we lost”

“There was so much beauty in our life together.

Maybe that’s where I should start.”

Lucy  Carter, Prologue

the light we lost

I didn’t go to Columbia. For undergrad, I went elsewhere in New York, and although I got in to Columbia for my master’s, I headed north to Boston instead.

In this sense, I’m dissimilar to Jill Santopolo, author of the light we lost.

I also wasn’t in NYC on 9/11. I remember exactly what I was doing that morning. I was taking a middle-school American history test in North Carolina.

In that sense, I’m also not like Santopolo’s main character, Lucy, who was in college at Columbia on that fateful day.

But I found myself, in ways that weren’t always comfortable, while reading the light we lost.

I have experienced love. I have experienced loss. I have struggled to understand how the universe moves, and whether or not we have any real say in what happens in our lives. I have moved, I have changed direction, and at times I’ve dug my heels in when I should have changed or moved but didn’t. I’ve also dealt with the blessings and consequences of these decisions. These are the ways I found myself in Santopolo’s work.

I should mention that I don’t read romance novels. Not normally. My life has — for better and for worse — enough real drama to last a lifetime. But I knew I had to read this one. So I went to the store, purchased it, and prepared to cry. And then I did.

I cried for Lucy and Darren and Gabe. I cried for their families and friends. I cried for New York. And yeah, I cried for me, too. I cried tears that I’d probably been needing to cry for years. And that was the best gift I could have given myself. The permission to feel big, scary feelings, about big, scary things.

A book that elicits that level of feeling, and builds a world where that feels both safe and real, transcends genre categorization. It is, quite simply, a great book. And because it is a great book, I’m here saying: go ahead, meet love and grief between the covers of the light we lost. Realize that the beauty of Santopolo’s work is in how she’s captured raw and complex things in a way that makes us less afraid to look them dead-on. Maybe even agree that her work defies the reductive label “romance novel.” And then try not to act surprised when you hear that she transcends literary categorization in other, surprising ways.

***

P.S. If you’re interested in Santopolo’s thoughts on the light we lost, I’d start with:

This blog post, by Santopolo, for Penguin Random House Audio.

This interview for Entertainment Weekly.

This interview for Washington Independent Review of Books.