Too early to think about Christmas trees around Thanksgiving, I set out to make a gratitude tree, replete with branches and construction paper leaves, each articulating something that various members of our family were grateful for. With an abundance of Pinterest tips (Google “gratitude tree”) in hand and mind, I headed off to Michaels in search of the perfect fake branches, mostly because the ones my son and I found in our hard were damp and, in some cases, rotting, and because I didn’t dare want to clip next springs buds from any of the trees in our yard. My sister and nephews were coming for the holiday, and I just thought this project would be awesome for all parties involved. The gratitude tree has been on our kitchen counter ever since.
I’m not sure what I was expecting from the project, exactly, but I knew, upon it’s completion, that something wasn’t working — at least for me. My son picked up of some of the language of gratitude, and he definitely, like his mama, enjoys decorating trees. Upon asking him what he was grateful for, he answered, quite simply, “love.” It doesn’t get much better than that, I suppose. My nephews engaged genuinely, too, identifying the people and things in their lives they were grateful for. Our gratitude “leaves” included everything that you would expect: family, friends, nature, food, home, etc.
But as I reflected on how to actually teach another person about gratitude, I wasn’t sure this tree was actually the way to go: it’s one thing to write down what you are grateful for; its an entirely different aspiration to live graciously, to really move through each day feeling holistic gratitude for all of it — the roots, the branches, the leaves, the seasons, the rotting branches on the ground in late November. Tree metaphor aside, when I went to make my leaves, I didn’t even know where to start. The idea of compartmentalizing gratitude, of defining and connecting it to individual people and things, wasn’t working for me. The idea of living graciously suggested instead something more holistic, something that starts from within and emanates outwards, something that keeps us centered, even anchored, in kindness. It sounds effortless — and appears that way, too — but emerges out of a disciplined practice, for some, and is downright hard, for others.
That I have spent much of our holiday thinking about this idea is, in and of itself, an indulgence. And yet, it has felt worthwhile. We drafted two versions of our holiday letter on the theme, each failing to articulate our thoughts with clarity. Then, I came across this NPR piece on the role of kindness in the Inuit community, in which any display of negative emotion, particularly anger, is considered childish. That idea was interesting to me. Anger isn’t always childish, certainly, but haven’t we all experienced a moment when we wished we had held it together for just a moment longer? When patience snapped prematurely? I guess it’s these moments that I’m reminded of when I think of my own aspirations. I’d like to choose my words more carefully, direct my tone more intentionally, and approach each moment, be it joyful or not, with a sense both openness and acceptance.
How do you define living graciously? What does it look like for you? Happy new year, friends — so grateful (!) to have you on this journey.