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MARTHA SEZ: Giving thanks despite the crankiness

November 23, 2017
By MARTHA ALLEN , Lake Placid News

"I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual."

-Henry David Thoreau

Every day during the month of November, my daughter, Molly, posts online a photograph of a person, place or thing that makes her feel grateful. The photograph might portray something as mundane and utilitarian as the family dishwasher, or as specific and dear as her five-year-old daughter having fun with two little school friends.

These posts make me realize that I, too, have plenty to be thankful for, even if I often take it for granted.

For example, Molly posts photographs of her children, Emma and Jack, playing on a sunny California beach on a day that, here in the Adirondacks, is dark and cloudy, beset with wind-driven sleet and freezing rain. I could complain about having to scrape the ice off my windshield in the morning-and I do. Still, when I see these pictures of my grandchildren, I feel grateful that they can frolic about in shorts and T-shirts, getting their sunshine vitamin D, even though they are so far away, and even though I miss them.

In my youth, when I was more romantic, I was proud of loving weather-all weather. I had a Wuthering Heights sort of sensibility for dramatic climatic turbulence in picturesque landscapes. I loved to stand out by Quarton Lake in the pouring rain, thunder and lightning ripping the sky, rejoicing.

No matter that Quarton Lake was a modest body of water, and a polluted one at that, in Birmingham, Michigan. My grandmother still called it the old mill pond; she recalled when it was the village swimming hole. To me, Quarton Lake, along with the vacant lot that bordered it and Grandma's woods, constituted the very heart of nature. As Henry David Thoreau wrote, "It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see."

"All the world will know Thor's wrath!" I would chortle to the swaying willow trees, a quote I probably picked up from Norse mythology in English class. Thor, as you know, was the Norse god who threw thunderbolts around. For the ancient Greeks, it was Zeus. I was pretty selective about what I learned in school, but I knew my mythology.

It's a good idea to designate November as the time to count and list our blessings, because otherwise, as the darkness gathers and grows, as the wind picks up and the gray clouds loom, as the temperature drops and the rain turns to what Tom Messner likes to refer to as a mixed bag, we might forget that we are grateful. It is easy enough to be thankful in June or October, but November could make ingrates of us all.

I am no Henry David Thoreau, not high-minded enough to entirely overcome my grumpiness.

A certain crankiness may come with age, creeping up on a person as she stomps around the bedroom in the middle of the night trying to get rid of a leg cramp or foregoes a favorite meal of hot tamales for fear of bringing on another attack of gastric reflux. This can happen even to a girl who once exulted in a thunderstorm on the banks of Quarton Lake. It is best, however, not to allow this crankiness to gain too much ground. Crankiness and cynicism can become a comfortable habit, a familiar easy chair from which to view the world, but, comfortable as it may seem, it is toxic. Reading what Thoreau had to say helps to put things into perspective.

"An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day," according to Thoreau, who loved to "saunter" for several hours every day through the woods and fields, coming home to record his observations of the natural world in his journal.

Thoreau's essay "Walking," published after his death in the Atlantic Monthly magazine in 1862, is available in paperback. Maybe I will give it to myself for Christmas. Here is a quote from "Walking" that I can identify with:

"When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and shopkeepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them-as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon-I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago."

Thanks, Henry David. It's getting light outside now. I think I'll get dressed and go for a walk.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 
 

 

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