by Heather Shaw
It has not been the best year of my life.
Much of it was spent with a partner battling stage 3 cancer — juggling the regular responsibilities of a family, a job and one very active puppy (which seemed like a good idea at the time) with an added dimension of constant uncertainty and unease. I tried to do everything, and yet so many things came undone. My mother passed away this summer, without a will or even power of attorney, and my father fell apart as a result, emptying their home of every last bit of everything that held a memory and announcing he was relocating from Chicago to my home in Portland, OR immediately because as an only child I was “all that was left.” My left hip was pronounced “severely, prematurely arthritic” and in need of a replacement. Sometime around January, my eleven year-old daughter stopped sleeping — period — and I found myself creating elaborate bedtime routines that invariably always ended in a campout on my bedroom floor so as not to disturb anyone else in the family (an exhausted compromise at best).
In his Stages of the Altruist’s Path, the 5th century Nalanda master, Asanga, taught that gratitude emerges from acknowledging the kindness and the care we’ve been shown by all of life—the kindness of our parents in giving us life, of our human ancestors in tending and caring for the earth and creating our culture and way of life; and the kindness of nature that’s generative and sustains life. This practice requires accepting all of the difficulties and the harm we see and have experienced in a knowing but not passive way; yet sincerely remembering and connecting with all of the good. This is especially relevant as some prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States. Although it’s a holiday many recognize as an opportunity to express gratitude, it is also a national day of mourning for Native Americans. We must name and honor the entirety of this history. It is what’s necessary for gratitude to emerge.