From November 28, 2019
Dear Friends --
On this, our shared gratitude day, a few musings from the trek.
Last week a friend sent along this nugget of wisdom to tuck in my pocket for the steps ahead: "Grief and gratitude are kindred souls, each pointing to the beauty of what is transient and given to us by grace."
(Patricia Campbell Carlson said those words and I have absolutely no idea who she is. But after a little sleuthing it appears she's part of a community that's anchored on the practice of gratitude, and wouldn't it be lovely to have that be your day job.)
Throughout all of these swirly weeks, grief and gratitude have become more mingled than ever before. But instead of canceling each other out, I've come to learn they actually work in harmony to reveal what's most sacred of all, those ever-present and marvelous miracles hiding in plain sight. Miracles that before I was often too distracted or just not curious enough to see.
This Thanksgiving Connor, Lucy and I are having a mini bivouac in Santa Barbara, our first trip since spring break in London earlier this year, the days before everything changed. And like everybody else, when we're on a trip we like to talk about our past trips, and the trips yet to come. In all that trippy chatter during our drive down yesterday, I remembered this moment when we were traipsing through London in search of history, adventure, and new memories.
We spent one morning in St Pauls, navigating our way through all the side atriums and pondering the stained glass, along with memorials dedicated to a dozen or so former royals from centuries old.
But then Connor said, “let’s go up.” Let’s climb the stairs and check out the view from above.
We climbed and climbed up the circular staircase of never ending steps. And then we made it up to the top interior balcony to gaze down below to take it all in. We may have seen different things – I remember Connor spotted the pipes of the giant organ, and I would have missed it entirely if he hadn’t pointed it out. I remember seeing one of the pietas, and thinking how differently it looked from on high.
Then I saw something else – a group of what looked like third graders on a field trip. Most were wearing navy puffy coats, and I wondered if maybe kiddos in London got navy puffy coats as part of their school uniforms. But then something new happened: they all dropped to the ground, and lay down like snow angels on the cathedral floor. Why? To gaze up, to see it all, to take in God’s grandeur from the best vantage point ever. Their teacher must have said this: “if you’re going to grapple with the whole story of St Paul’s, you simply have to lay on your back and look up.”
And I thought it was maybe one of the holiest things I’ve ever seen in church.
I wonder if gratitude isn't simply the practice of laying on your back and looking up, and marveling at it all. And perhaps grief gives us the eyes to see the surprises tucked in throughout, mainly because the treasured familiar is, heartbreakingly, no longer in sight.
Ultimately it may come down to this simple question: "what will we choose to see?"
To help us see better, and more clearly, this Thanksgiving, Connor, Lucy and I are following these guidelines by Mary Oliver:
"Instructions for life:
Tell about it."
Like London school children in navy puffy coats, we'll fix our eyes on what's most astonishing: beauty, and hope, kindness, inspired teachers, friends who run marathons wearing Foxy pins, relationships built on generosity and patience, and a teenage son who once said, "let's go up."
Today more than any other day, we'll look up. We'll see.