This is not your grateful, happy, holiday post. If you’re looking for inspiration, for something to make you feel good, for something to make your family seem a little less crazy, or for a piece of writing that will make you step back and say “wow,” this is not the post for you. There are plenty of those sorts of posts out there this time of year, and plenty of real bloggers able to set aside their hurt or frustration or anger or pain to write something inspirational that will make you feel jolly. If you look, you can find post after blessed post designed to bring awareness to the fact that there are people in the world who are REALLY hurting, and you’re not one of them. There are tons of folks wiser than myself who are able to bring it all home and give you warm tinglies as you read their magical wisdom-filled words of love and gratitude and blessings.
But here’s what I’ve got today instead: I am really struggling with gratitude. I am tired. My heart hurts. My fight drive is moving steadily in the direction of flight, and everything in me just wants to curl up with a big fuzzy blanket and sleep. Animals have it right, you know? Hibernation should totally be a thing.
I’ve talked myself through this before. I’ve talked myself through this gratitude struggle before, and I have come out on the other side. I can tell you with complete sincerity and certainty that I am exceptionally blessed. I am grateful for family and health and friends and pets and love and all those things we all pull out this time of year when we sit around the Thanksgiving table or post on Facebook. It’s not that those things aren’t real, or wonderful and meaningful, or that they don’t matter… because of course they do. Of course it’s important that we express gratitude for them, even if it’s just once a year, and even if that gratitude occurs around the mumbled curses, sighs, and eye rolls that inevitably happen when family gathers together. There is meaning in ritual. There is meaning in finding those moments of gratitude. There is meaning in the gathering, and in the cursing, and in the eye rolls. There must be. Why else would we continue to do it?
But here’s the thing: even as I can say that I am grateful for all those things, and even as I feel that gratitude, I’m not really feeling it. I am paying lip service to gratitude, and that actually feels kinda shitty, you know? I believe there can be a certain power in going through the motions. Making statements of gratitude, even when I don’t feel them, has been important for me in the past. Finding the tiny pieces – the little twinkle lights of gratitude – that was a challenge I lived and loved for a few years.
But much like the twinkle lights on the Christmas trees, there are times when the whole damn string goes out for no apparent reason. One tiny little bulb in that whole long string of lights decides it’s going to crap out, and BAM. No more twinkle lights. Sure, you can push and squeeze and twist every damn twinkle light on that string, but it’s done, and pretty soon you find yourself in line at Wal-Mart with the hordes of other people buying twinkle lights, all desperate to purchase something that will light up the darkness.
Because that’s what we’re doing, isn’t it? We’re all searching for something that will light up the dark that extends around us as far as we can see. Aren’t we all hungry for those little things that will light the way? Aren’t we all always searching for those little beacons of hope? Perhaps that’s all gratitude is – a way of desperately hanging on to twinkle lights, attempting to convince ourselves that if we stare at them long enough, they might be something more. If you’ve ever spent time looking at a Christmas tree, you know that you can stare at the lights in such a way that they grow into large balls of light before your eyes – and you also know that it’s still that tiny little bulb, hanging to a string that is so interconnected to the other lights that if one goes out – they all go out together.
I guess the thing is that I feel beat up by the world. I’ve tried all the positive reframes I can manage, and the truth of the matter is still this: today, I feel beat up. I’m tired, and my heart just hurts, and I’m NOT grateful. If I’m honest, the truth of the matter is that I feel like the defective twinkle light. I feel like I am the twinkle light on that string of twinkles that is about to have twinkled its last twink. I feel like I’m about to be the one that kills the whole chain of lights – because something must have happened to that one light, right? That one light was the one that got tired. That one light was the one that got stepped on. That one light was the one that hit the ground first when the cat ripped the lights out of the tree, or the one that was just a little defective from the start, or the one that’s positioned unfortunately, such that it gets knocked again and again until the thing finally just craps out. Who can blame it?
For the past few years, I’ve felt like the lone twinkle light. There’s not much to be done with a single twinkle light, and I don’t know that anyone would purchase a solo twinkle, honestly…but that was what I thought I needed. For a time, I think it was what I needed. I’m learning that this doesn’t work forever.
I’m not sure why it happened, or how it happened, or how the mechanics or the electrical wiring of this worked, but I suddenly find myself on a big string – an ever-expanding string – of twinkle lights. Sometime a few months ago, I found myself in the middle of these beautiful lights. Not on the end. Not barely hanging on somewhere. Smack in the middle, connected just as strongly as all the rest to the next light, and the next light, and to all of those lights down the string.
I know that this is where I should say, “…and I’m really really grateful for this, and it’s awesome and amazing.”
And I am grateful, in a way that transcends the word grateful. And it is awesome, and it is amazing. Truly. In every sense of every one of those adjectives. Every time I feel my light dwindling, someone along that chain sends a little extra twinkle down that string of lights, and I somehow stay lit. Every single time I feel like I’m going to burn out, there’s this little boost from someone on that string, and I keep burning.
And I also hate it, because being part of that chain means trusting. It means believing those lights aren’t going to suddenly decide that my piece of the chain isn’t worth the energy. It means believing that my light and energy can support the light and energy of others, and that it will be accepted and valued. It means that I have to allow others to support my energy, when I would much rather just do it myself (even as I acknowledge that I can’t). It means I feel guilt, and shame, and frustration, and vulnerability and weakness alongside hope and love and joy and excitement and gratitude, because trust for me right now means all of those things. It just does.
Being part of this chain of beautiful twinkling means that I need to believe that I am worth the energy and light being shared with me along that string, and that, perhaps, is the hardest thing at the root of it all. Believing that others want or value my light…that they want me to be part of this string of light…that’s hard, and it’s tiring. My heart hurts as it tries to believe that I’m worthy, and as it tries to understand why I’m worthy, and as it tries to believe that I am worthy of both giving and receiving the light. This chain is powered by a love I don’t understand that, quite frankly and irrationally, stresses me out. It’s hard to articulate gratitude for something you are given that you can’t convince yourself you deserve, and that you feel sure is going to be taken from you as suddenly as it was given. It’s hard to express gratitude for something you so desperately need and want, and feel so extremely fortunate to find…when you also feel as though it will be taken from you at any possible moment. I know as absolute fact that I could wake up tomorrow and have been not only cut out of the string, but also smashed into a million non-twinkling pieces on the ground. I know as absolute fact that I could put myself back together from that. I know as absolute fact that I don’t want to.
So here is what I’m doing: I’m holding off on the expressions of gratitude. I’m acknowledging that I am cautiously grateful, and that I am scared of this gratitude, because gratitude means attachment and trust, and I am scared to allow myself either. I’m allowing myself to withhold the trust and belief, because that’s what my heart needs if this is going to ever work at all. I'm accepting that, right now, everything is complicated -- even gratitude. I am grateful, and hurting, and working so hard to reach a place of peace.
So I’m going to sit back, and let those lights twinkle, and I’m going to work like hell to believe that I have a light worth burning alongside them.