Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Thankful Month, Day Three

On November 1st, a friend on Facebook declared that she would be posting a new thing she was thankful for every day from then till Thanksgiving. I have done this in the past a few times, and when I read what she wrote, I realized that this daily ritual would be especially important for me to do this year. You see...the last three or four months have been very difficult for me. I had some excruciating physical ailments (that have not yet been officially diagnosed) and a debilitating round of strep throat. Then my beloved Uncle passed away last week. The year has been a roller coaster, and right now I am struggling against the downward swoop of the track. It is a time to remember what I have to be thankful for.

For a long time, I struggled with my feelings about the holiday of Thanksgiving in general. It was difficult for me to celebrate a moment when the Native Americans gave so generously to complete strangers who looked different, talked different, and behaved different...and then only had their generosity eventually betrayed in the worst possible way. Then there was the commercial prevalence toward skipping most of the Thanksgiving festivities and going straight for the big kill: Christmas. Friends would vent angrily over any signs of Christmas decoration or music occurring before Thanksgiving, but I had mixed feelings. The Christmas holidays always take a lot of preparation for me, and I always have to begin at least buying presents before Thanksgiving. Surely there had to be a way to enjoy the preparation for both holidays simultaneously.

Finally a couple of years ago I had a Thanksgiving epiphany. I eliminated the story of the Pilgrims and Indians in my mind, choosing to instead focus on the truest meaning of the holiday. I now consider it the grand and beautiful gateway holiday to the Christmas season, when we can gather around a table before things get too chaotic, and take a moment to truly focus on what we have to be thankful for.

Well of course Thanksgiving is about giving thanks. This news was nothing new. But all of a sudden, I *got* it. I finally truly understood why this holiday of thankfulness was important for my own life, and how it fit in with my seasonal celebrations.

So this year, as I said, I need the warm positivity of this spirit of thankfulness more than ever.

To catch you up on the month, on Tuesday I declared how thankful I was to have had my Uncle David in my life for 31 years. Wednesday I was thankful to have re-found two of my oldest friends for whom I had searched for years...Bethany and Jamie...on Facebook. Today's thankful moment is a bit more elaborate and takes some time to explain.

A book came in at the library for me today...Martha's Entertaining: A Year of Celebrations (with Martha Stewart). It was a thick coffee table tome capable of doing serious damage. As I flipped through the pages of the book, I was awed by the gorgeous and elaborate experiences she had set up for her guests as she entertained. A Halloween party featured gorgeous table settings, a centerpiece with an enormous tree branch surrounded by Spanish Moss and pumpkins, and real owls flying around, borrowed from a friend. I started to feel the pang of inferiority I get sometimes when I see these breathtaking home interior and party set-ups. It is fickle and transient, I know, but I think "oh I wish I could put on a party like that. How does she DO it??"

Then, all of a sudden, a quote I heard from one of the first episodes of a reality show popped into my head. The show was The Fabulous Beekman Boys, and though I quit watching it after a few episodes, there was a moment that really stuck with me. The show was about a couple from New York, city slickers, who bought a farm and started a business that romanticized country life...selling upscale homemade products and the company name.

In the episode in question, the "boys" were planning an elaborate party to introduce their brand, and everything had to be just-so. (One memorable scene showed one of the guys, Brent, asking the local farmer in their employ if he could possibly make the hardworking barn full of farm animals smell more appealing, and please wash the barn windows) In fact, Brent used to work for Martha Stewart Omnimedia, and I could tell that his goal was to throw one of their pristinely beautiful style fetes. When the party began, his partner wanted to relax at the party with a drink and a friend. When Brent insisted his partner be professional and keep a stiff upper lip, the partner vented to the camera:

"I'm used to going to parties where people can relax and enjoy themselves." He went on to say...“Brent comes from a world of Martha Stewart parties, where everything looks perfect but nobody’s having a good time.”

I was really struck by this quote. It made me realize that the veneer of luxurious beauty presented by Martha Stewart and some of the blogs I love to read online may not necessarily tell the whole truth. Now. Do I love to look at gorgeous pictures of home interiors arranged artfully and just-so? Of course. Do I love to try to express myself in the same way? Definitely. Am I inspired and impressed by images from parties and events where the hosts have outdone themselves with establishing a theme that comes through in every aspect of every inch of the event? Definitely. But this quote from a Fabulous Beekman Boy just slapped me across the face with a reminder that there is another old expression that may perhaps also hold true: "Style over substance."

With all that preamble in mind, I am ready to say what I am thankful for today. I am thankful I have a substantial life. I am thankful that the parties I both throw and attend with friends are ones where we can kick our feet up and put on Tardis hats. Do I still want to throw a Midsummer Day tea party in our backyard, complete with glowing lanterns, garden flowers, and faerie wings? Well, yes. But if that party also includes paper plates for the hors d'oeuvres and a bit of a sunburn, hopefully I can remember the Beekman Boy's quote, and be thankful that I can both try to surround myself with beautiful things and also celebrate the imperfections of life.