Can it be Thanksgiving already? Wasn’t Labor Day last week? It seems like there’s an acceleration of time that happens as we get deeper into our journey — it’s really frightening sometimes. Felt that way to me when I woke up yesterday and suddenly realize where we are in the annual cycle. Are you kidding me? Another year gone already? This is ridiculous. But regardless of that — it’s here, and while it stands as a reminder of time slip sliding away, it also is, or should be, a moment to stop and reflect on all that I have to be truly thankful for. And so that’s what I’m going to do.
My memories of Thanksgiving are pretty standard American ones — school programs with Indians and Pilgrims, Macy’s Parade on TV (but who cares?), an early pro football game (always the cellar dwelling Detroit Lions, why do they inflict that on us every year?) that creates a soundtrack to the day as we play the “waiting for the turkey” game, family coming over, autumn leaves blowing around outside, usually a greyish kind of day (porcelain grey sky, no rain, chilly, “good football weather”), then at last, around 3pm, the meal itself – turkey with all the trimmings, cornbred stuffing, a funky green bean casserole I never really understood but everybody raved about and I enjoyed for the ritual it was part of, gravy, apple pie — then, afterwards, napping through the third quarter of the second football game (always the Cowboys, slightly better than the Lions, hate those Cowboys!), then everyone leaves and you’re still left with most of an evening with nothing to do except go eat some more turkey, sandwiches this time, watch some TV, good night — it’s done.
Lately we’ve been deviating a bit from the norm. Last year I went down to Long Beach to a fish market and bought some big whole fish which we grilled — not trying to save a turkey or anything, just feeling like something non-traditional was in order. I wonder why we did that? Rena says American Thanksgiving to her feels like 8 hours of cooking, 10 minutes of eating, and 3 hours of cleaning up. I think she may be onto something.
Extracting Meaning From the Day
But the mechanics of the day are not what this post is about. Lately, as I’m moving deeper into what I hope is just the third quarter of my life, I have become more conscious of actually pausing and spending a significant part of the day — early morning usually, as it is now — to pause and think–really think– about all the true reasons I have to be geniunely thankful. This year it feels more important than ever to do this — the year has been stressful, the most stressful by far, so much so that most days it’s really hard to will myself to get up in the morning and “face the day” — even though I manage to do it, every day around 5:50am, accomplishing the Herculean feat of “getting up” more though discipline than desire. It’s just that as I lie there in the twilight between the escape that sleep provides, and the intrusion of the day with all the forces that I don’t seem to be able to control breathing down my neck, chasing me like demons, the problems seem overwhelming and I just want to retreat back into the peace that sleep offers. I have to remind myself that the kind of stress I’m talking about, though — is mostly related to a condition we call WNP, a condition most Filipinos understand very, very well, sad to say. (That’s Wala Ng Pera or “There is No Money”, for the unintiated among us.) Now I know that compared to someone for whom just having money for food is a challenge we are not truly WNP. But I’m talking about WNP as in having more debts and obligations and responsibilities than resources to pay them — a sense of “how can I possibly take care of everyone and everything that I have to take care of–there’s not enough to go around?” Oftentimes I have to remind myself that the truth is –it’s “only money”– everybody somehow gets by. You feel like — oh no, we’re sinking, we can’t make it …. but you do, and you keep going to sleep at night and getting up in the morning and life goes on. But in this environment, trying to consciously think of all the reasons to be thankful is healthy, and needed, and worth the time and energy. This year I’m taking it a step further than just thinking about it — I’m writing about it, sharing my thoughts with anyone else who cares to stop, pause, think, acknowledge the problems that we all face but then also acknowledge the beauty in our lives, and be thankful for it.
The Worry Pitcher
Someone told me once that we each have a “worry pitcher” — like a pitcher of water. The theory was that at best, your worry pitcher is 70% full, so even in good times there will be things to worry about. In bad times it goes up to 100%, but the good news is — it reaches capacity and then it starts overflowing. I feel like I’ve been at 100% capacity for much of the last year or more — but then I stop and think, why am I at 100% worry capacity when I do have so many things to be sincerely thankful about, when in spite of my grumblings about money and debt, I’m blessed with abundance in other areas?
So here is my list of things that I am truly thankful for on this day:
My Mom and Rena’s Parents Are Alive, and Doing Well
My 82 year old mother is not only still alive — she’s alert, laughing, web-savvy, cool to hang out on the phone with, and is the one person in my universe who has stood by me every step of the way through a life that’s been a long and winding journey for sure. She is a joy and a blessing. And Rena’s Mom and Dad are both still alive, and strong — her mom has the heartiest and most heartfelt laugh I’ve ever heard, and her Dad, the strong, silent type for sure, is hanging tough.
My Loved Ones and I Seem to Be Pretty Healthy
I am somewhere on the spectrum between being reasonably healthy and being very healthy for my age and no one in my family or among my close friends (with one exception and she knows who she is) have had to face any major health issues for the last year. And that one friend who’s had a health drama has been a hero — an inspiration who makes me feel like ‘what the h— are you complaining about, Sellers?’ with the grace and courage she has shown. And she’s got the beast on the run and may have beat it altogether. She inspires me and is a daily reminder of what I don’t have to deal with. And remember what I don’t have to deal with is a first step toward appreciating what I have.
I Have a True “Miss Universe Ng Buhay Ko”
I have the best wife in the Universe and that is not an exaggeration — it is simply a fact. Who else could put up with the turmoil and uncertainty of the life I’ve chosen; who else could have come into my life with all these kids already on the scene and figured out a way to bond with each one of them, and create harmony in a household that could easily have been a war zone; who else could become my golf buddy, my football buddy, my fishing buddy (well, she get’s seasick, that’s a slight flaw but forgivable), and still keep it exciting and fresh and new and real? It’s been 11 years since we got married; 15 since we met; and it still feels fresh and new and filled with unexplored possibilities, and the hope of a future which someday allows us to step out together in the warmth of the sunlight and enjoy peace of mind together.
My Entire Family Is More Loving Towards Me and Each Other Than Anyone Has a Right to Expect
I have a peaceful, loving family around me with four kids who get along with each other — and who are now emerging as incredibly loving and generous adults. I look at them and wonder — you mean there’s part of me in there? I did that? (With some able assistance, of course.) It’s amazing. When they’re growing up and driving you nuts one way or another it’s hard to see ahead to this moment — but we’re in that moment now (20,22,23,27) — no more teenagers, all of them with something to bring joy to the heart of a Dad who may not have been the absolute best Dad ever –but who’s trying to make up for the shortcomings in the early years (when I was in the Philippines and they — or most of them — were in Florida) by being there for them recently, and now.
Rena’s Family Is My Family And I’m Learning From Them, and Her, Every Day
Rena is the youngest of 12 children — she has 69 nieces and nephews (at last count) and countless cousins, all of them (with the exception of sister Lisa in Kentucky) living in the Philippines, mostly in Guinob-an, Eastern Samar. It has been an incredible blessing to have this clan become my clan — for our world’s to intersect and move forward together. I don’t get to go to the Philippines as often as I would like to — but they are alive every day on the phone with Rena, in the photos she has brought back, and in my mind as I contemplate a day in the future when I can kick back and “hang” in the Philippines, surrounded by the love and spirit that they bring.
Friends Lift Me Up Every Day
I am blessed to have friends who believe in me, who care about me and my family, and who share the burden with me as we try to make things happen in the crazy world of endeavor that I have chosen, and in which I and my friends labor without having the kind of security and success that we might have had, had we chosen something other than the world of independent film for our work. These friends — most of whom are part of my work world — lift me up without knowing it, and I am thankful in a deep and meantingful way to them.
Those are the big things, the truly important things that matter, and I am blessed with incredible abundance in them, and when I think about them, as I have while I’m writing this, the stress that I feel on a day to day basis gives way to joy and almost a feeling of exhiliration — a kind of family induced bliss.
A Wonderful and Unexpected Gift
Finally I’ve had a wonderful and unexpected gift, just in the last two weeks. I wrote something that seems to have had a real impact — has touched people, and maybe even inspired them a bit, and through this has brought me many new friends who have connected with me not just through the randomness of geography or our paths crossing at work — but with whom I’ve connected as a result of shared appreciation for a culture, values, and a spirit embodied in an someone whom we recognize is special — and whose meaning transcends his own identity as an individual. If I ever feel depressed at any point going forward — all I have to do is go browse the comments to the story that touched people and my spirit will be lifted. For this I am truly thankful.
Resolution Going Forward
From this day forward I won’t take any of this for granted. From this day forward I’ll remind myself every day how blessed I am and how my worries are nothing compared to what they could be. I’ll remind myself that many people labor an entire lifetime amidst failed relationships and dysfunction among loved ones, while I have loy and beauty and love around me every day. I will remind myself that I have nothing to complain about, that I should be — and am — truly and deeply thankful, not in a knee-jerk, “everyone’s supposed to be thankful” way, but rather in a way that comprehends the stresses and challenges that bedevil me, but puts them in perspective and recognizes the true value of the extraordinary blessings that I have.