Gratitude, Ten Thousand Days

88 Things We Love About You

February 1, 2019

Photo: Joshua Anderson Slate

Day 1620 – Day 1630

Recently I was meeting with a fellow storyteller and I mentioned to him that I was documenting this journey of Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude.  He asked if I was writing a post every day.  As readers know, I did that for the first year, but after that milestone, I started to experiment with other ways of showing gratitude.  Daily gratitude practice is great for building a habit of being grateful, practicing joy, experiencing oneness and of looking for ways to be of service.  But to find purpose in our practices and to make meaning out of our lives, through the lens of these practices, research has shown that gratitude is more impactful with reflection and the cultivation of reverent depth of feeling.  It is hard, in our busy lives, to find the time to exercise daily, let alone to sit in reverent reflection on gratitude.  And so, we have moved to a more weekly (ish) personal essay.  Readers may have noticed that we’ve also taken away the formal ticking of the boxes of gratitude, joy, oneness, service, purpose and meaning (etc), although the thread is still present in the narrative.

For me, it helps to focus my gratitude practice on these practices, and it helps me to make meaning of a week or two of my life, when I consider these practices and how they’ve played (or not) a part of my life.  I have found that my experience of gratitude, joy, oneness and my drive to be of service has deepened with this more reflective approach.

Yet, there are many ways to practice gratitude, and in the first year, we experimented with some of those forms – letter writing, saying a heartfelt thank you for deeds done and expressing heartfelt appreciation directly to individuals that have been important in our lives.  Since we moved to this new website, we’ve featured individuals who are making a difference in the world as a way of showing appreciation for their efforts, on behalf of all of us.

But there are still so many ways we can express gratitude.

Last month, my father achieved 88 years on this planet.  Before you try to calculate how old that makes me, let me just say that there is a wide age gap between my eldest sibling and myself.  I was an unexpected baby, I’m told, and I am the youngest of my entire generation.  Many of my second cousins are closer to my age than my first cousins are.  But, let’s not let my vanity about my age detract from the story….

My father celebrated his 88th birthday.  We often do great things on milestone birthdays but we forget those years that aren’t a 5 year or 10 year marker.  At this age, reaching the next milestone is far from guaranteed.  To me, 88 seemed auspicious.  Double digits, and all that.  And, it turns out that in Chinese tradition, the number 8 is auspicious, and as it is a double 8, it is particularly so.

My father doesn’t see his grandchildren or his children as much as he would like.  They are all grown and live at a distance.  The time of wonder and play and the tender cuddles he had with children and grandchildren, as children, are gone.  As adults, we just don’t spend time with our parents and grandparents like we used to.

I try to see my father once a week.  A large part of the reason I re-located across the world was to spend some time with him while we still had time.  But breakfast in a crowded restaurant is not conducive to heartfelt conversations or expressions of gratitude and love.

My dad is not really one for soppy conversations as it is.  But, the fact that he doesn’t like to talk about ‘feelings’ does not mean that he doesn’t have them wrapped up within a very sentimental and romantic heart.  As his generation of men do, he hides his feelings behind humour or practical displays of caring.    My family, in general, was not raised to be adept at expressing emotion with one another.  This changed, for me, when my mother was sick, and, as it turns out, dying.  I was a young woman of 18 or 20 and definitely not adept at communication.  But, even then, I knew – or sensed – that love is better expressed now, rather than face regret over words that were left unspoken.

I’m pretty good at saying I love you.  My friends have simply learned to accept my expressions of love, even if they aren’t comfortable with saying the words, themselves.  Surviving the events of 9/11, in New York, reinforced for me that words of love, appreciation, or remorse should not go unspoken.  Life is both too short and too long to hold on to things that should be expressed.

Before the holidays, I had spent some time looking for thoughtful gifts that I could make for friends and family.  Most seemed to revolve around mason jars.  YouTube loves mason jars.  Hipsters love mason jars.  Who doesn’t love a mason jar?

And so, the idea of creating “88 Things We Love About You,” was born.

I arranged for my father’s wife, children and grandchildren to each write a certain number of things that they loved, admired or appreciated about him on different coloured post-it notes.  At Christmas, I gathered them up and put them into that mason jar, and my niece put one of her hand-made bows on the jar.  A week later, on his birthday, he received the jar containing 88+ Things We Love About You.

He read a half a dozen on his birthday and it made him so happy.  When his children and his grandchildren can’t be around, he can open up the jar, pull out some of the papers and feel the love and appreciation that we feel for him, but sometimes are embarrassed to, or forget to express.

Photo: Kelly Sikkema

 

It cost nothing to make, but I think it is one of the best gifts he has ever received from us.  I know it is one of the two best gifts I have ever given him.  And, with 88+ sentiments of love and gratitude, it is a gift that will keep giving him joy, for months to come.

I like to think that whenever he feels a bit tired or unwell, he will reach into his jar, and pull out an expression of love.  I know that when he read a few on his birthday, his face lit up with smiles, and he planned to read a new one each night, as he was drifting off to sleep.  Like he read stories to us as we were children, so too, can we send him off to sleep with happy thoughts on his mind.

I’m so grateful that we could pull off that magic for him.  And I’m grateful that we’ve all had the opportunity to leave no words of appreciation unspoken, which we could later regret.

Life is short but one of the saddest things we can experience is to reach our final years and feel we’ve made no impact on the world or that we’ve wasted our lives.  Recent economic research indicates A U-Bend in life and this can hit us around 50 years old.  We either grow old and bitter or we accept and appreciate the life we have lived.  I think a jar full of appreciation is one great way to see the meaning and the purpose that our sacrifices and efforts have created in the lives of those we love.

I don’t mind if you take the idea and run with it.  In fact, I hope that you will.  The more love and appreciation we can spread to those in our lives, the happier our world will be.

Photo: Dakota Corbin. Muralist: Unidentified, but please comment with artist name if known

 

For what are you most grateful this week?

 

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