It’s Thanksgiving, a holiday with many meanings here in the United States. Around the world, expats spend weeks sourcing ingredients for their traditional meal. For most Americans, this day remains an honored ritual of sitting down to eat with family. At some point we will pause to reflect on those things we are grateful for: our health, prosperity, progeny, and luck. Few face the holiday without a tinge of guilt for the gluttony it represents – gluttony at the expense of the original inhabitants who were swept aside to make way for our American Dream.
This morning, our lawn blushes green between patches of hoarfrost and russet leaves. The oaks have shed half their leaves and what remain are shimmering gold. Cold-weather crops dominate our garden: sturdy collards, cauliflower, broccoli, and kale. Tiny lettuces have arisen from seed in the tote behind the feathery asparagus patch. The roses are still in bloom and the azaleas have decided to join them.
It’s turned cold. North Carolina cold. 40 degrees Fahrenheit feels punishing after the coddling 65-degree days. I took advantage of the sun and harvested all 130 pounds of ginger and turmeric. I raked leaves to blanket empty garden squares, and perched on an aluminum ladder to wash windows. I took a pair of old washcloths and rubbed black mold from the daffodil siding and spinach-colored door on our back porch. I painted a weathered joist with auburn stain and seal, doing my best to rub out the black patches before immortalizing their lava lamp shapes with fat brush strokes. I lay in the hammock and talked on the phone, swept leaves from the tree house, and went walking with my friends.
On this Thanksgiving Day, I drag a bulging bag of gratitude into the sun for examination. In it, I find:
- Bob, a man who continues to love and support me despite my age and cynicism
- Three daughters, five brother, and two parents, alive and reasonably healthy
- A roomy, dry home with a modest mortgage payment
- Retirement, a long-awaited event which has turned my life into one big game
- The mechanics who keep our three old cars on the road
- My health, still running on all eight cylinders with minimal leakage
- Friends old and new: loyal companions, sincere, supportive, and entertaining
- My New York Times subscription, for painlessly putting me back in the know
- Our deep freezer, stocked with roasted peppers, peanut butter cookies, and other delights
- Neighbors who would drop everything and come to my aid should I fall off a ladder or choke on a cookie
The life Bob and I have engineered for ourselves is so spectacularly fine that we marvel at it every day. Luckily, we were born at the apex of American prosperity between the Great Depression and the slow slide into corporate rape beginning in the 70’s. Our families gave both Bob and I enough of a start to put us on our feet, but not enough to prevent us from developing a healthy work ethic. We worked steadily for forty years, for big corporations and small, family-owned businesses.
We paid our dues and lucked into a couple of corporate windfalls. At the apex of Bob’s career, we followed our hearts and jumped off the tread mill. We reinvented ourselves as serial expatriates, highly-employable for our skills and mobility. It was the things we decided not to do that set us free: to stop owning and rent instead, to not make any more children, to give away our last pet, and most of our belongings. We chose instead to value experience over security, stewardship over ownership, relationships over toys, and to live frugally, to garden and cook and eat in.
For this I am grateful. I need look no further than our yard for spiritual guidance, inspiration, and meaningful work. This morning, I have a clear vision of the world outside my window. I know where I am, how I got here, and thanks to whom.