Last week I asked you to write to me about what you’re grateful for. The response was overwhelming. Hundreds of you sent me emails full of love and light, even when many of them were also threaded with sorrow and pain. I read every word of gratitude you sent me and I was touched by each email, though I could select only a portion of them to appear in this column. It was difficult to choose, as the ones I didn’t publish are just as wonderful as those I did
Together, the ninety-three letters that appear below will give you an idea of the wide range of people who are part of this community we’ve created and also a sense of what I experience each time I wander through my email inbox. There is so much humanity here, so much grace and good humor, so much strength and wisdom. Compiling these letters made me understand more profoundly how fortunate I am that you have shared yourselves with me so honestly and open-heartedly in the “Dear Sugar” column. I’m grateful for that every day.
Happy Thanksgiving, sweet peas.
A few months ago, I looked out over a cityscape in Indonesia and saw fireworks lighting the night in every direction, heard mosques vying to blare out the loudest call to prayer, heard voices ringing out in celebration and welcome. It was Lebaran (Eid ul-Fitr) and people all over Jakarta had just broken their final Ramadan fast of the year. My fellow freckly American expat turned to me and said, “Why are so many people so afraid of this?”
How sad it would be, to be one of those people. The staggering little moments of glory you would miss. I’m so grateful that what I saw that night was joy in abundance and pure love.
I am grateful every single second of every day for my husband who dealt with the news of my MS diagnosis by saying, “That’s what taking the good with the bad in our vows meant. I have your back no matter what, I love YOU, everything else we have happen in our lives is just stuff. As long as I can be there for you I can make it through anything.”
This Thanksgiving will be the first with my baby son, Langston James Simmons. He will turn one year old on November 30. I’m grateful for this first year of his life: for having gained confidence in my mothering as a blind person. I’m grateful for him, even as now
he is crying with all his might as his father puts his pajamas on him before I get him to sleep. I am grateful for the support and love I’ve gotten this year from my husband, my family and friends. I’m grateful for words; I’m grateful beyond words.
In March 2004, my daughter Emily died 4 days after she was born, because of an overworked labor and delivery team and their errors, plural – one of those “all the holes in the Swiss cheese lined up” stories. During her life she was in a lot of pain. She could not hear, see, move or swallow her own saliva. After we made the terrible decision to take her off life support she fought for her life for 12 hours. I cannot honestly say this is a story where she taught me to live better or anything like that. The death of a child is only a tragedy. And yet, there was a nurse in the NICU who stubbornly, stoically, referred to my husband and I – first-time parents – as mum and dad; who told us we had better change her diaper, even when she was dying, and critiqued our technique. Who invited us to give her her first and last bath. Who told us we were good parents. Who made the unthinkable and abnormal into two parents caring for their child.
What she didn’t know is that we had been trying to have a child for 8 years. And the reason it had taken that long is that my uterus was scarred from childhood abuse. And that I had learned never to expect a helping hand, and then had done therapy to overcome that, and then had been so terribly let down by our L&D team. I would have lain down and given up, I think, had that nurse not reached out to me with the exact right words at the exact right time.
18 months later we had my son, now 6. This year we welcomed our second son. Our family still is missing my little girl, but it feels complete. I am incredibly, joyfully, happy. It is amazing the difference it makes sometimes when someone just reaches into the heart of your experience and names it, and sits there with you in it.
For eight years I was the founding director of a school for young children. It was hard, big, beautiful work, and my days were full of hugs, bills, questions, and creative energy.
At the end of every school day, the children in each classroom gather in a circle, along with their teachers and any parents or grandparents who have arrived a bit early, and each person in turn “says a thankful.”
Thankful circle can, to visiting adults, seem an interminable exercise. Some children say the same. exact. thing. every. day. “I’m thankful for playing on the playground and having lunch.” Some children say whatever happens to come out of their mouths, and they seem just as surprised as the rest of us. “I’m thankful that my dog, his name is Buster, he’s brown, and sometimes, he tries to get on my bed, and once, he ate a whole stick of butter of the counter, and…” until a teacher gently suggests, “how ’bout just one more thing?”
Some children never say anything at all, just a barely audible “Pass.”
But whatever the child says, or doesn’t say, each, in turn, has a turn. An opportunity to be heard, with respect. A moment that is theirs, to shape, to decide about, to offer something to the world if they choose.
I am thankful for that moment. For the chance each of us has to offer that moment to others though our listening and our respect, and the chance to make what we choose of that moment when it’s our turn.
I take a dance class at Mark Morris in New York that saves my life. Well, I say it’s a dance class but it’s more like church and dance rolled into one. Everybody in that class is so beautiful and it is like we all throw off this big blanket, that heavy swathing that collects around us as we move through the week of obligations. As if to dull the scratchings of our own spinning creature, the one turning inside of us, restless, ready.
We throw off the blanket every week, hands flung upwards. And we wake the wildness in us, stretch, shake, perambulate, whatever gets it moving, whatever gets it to open a lazy amber eye, and wonder if it is time.
There was a man who came for a while. He flapped his arms like an injured bird, and his back was so curved, his hips all over the place. Everything flailing and wrong. And it was sad because wherever this creature that he was calling, it wasn’t answering, was not running to his aid. He shook and trembled and flailed and bucked, to every rhythm but the downbeat, and it seemed he was abandoned, alone in a body that had once known wildness, as we all have. He made me think of all those posters in the high school guidance office saying with enough practice and perseverance you will improve. For weeks, months, he came and he was very nice and all, and he kept smiling and leaping about but he never really got better at it. He continued to flail.
And one time my girlfriend came and we were sort of breaking up. She came at the end of the class and it was like she rolled in on this dark swirl, and that wild energy that the class had just danced up around us, vibrating the room fully awake, made me acutely aware that everyone could see her the way I knew her to be, and all her anger and sadness was like a hard smear all over her face, and it made her more beautiful, and more terrible, and it felt like everyone looked on as I kissed her on the cheek. Everyone knew the shape of us in that moment. People who saw nothing of my life beyond this room bore witness to the Jacobs ladder of our inside threads flipped outward. And she missed it. Was unaware for that moment. Unaware how clearly we were on display, and as terrified as I was of being caught like that, with it came a relief to feel that for the first time I wasn’t alone in seeing her this way.
Because the blanket, it was no longer there, obscuring things. Thus unpeeled, you can see shit. And what the class saw was not a divine being whose toes barely touched earth, whose charm and beauty left everyone graced with her presence slack-jawed and breathless. But instead, a dark and jealous creature stalking, and me so hopelessly trapped, deflating.
And the class? There is that tipping moment, before a reaction. Then they moved in waves, waves of love toward me, and that shocked me right down to my bones. The expression on the faces of these near-perfect strangers, I will never forget. That they were mine and not hers and it had been a competition this whole time, of course it was a competition. What could she take from me, who could I take from her? I usually lost. Untie yourself. They seemed to say. Come back to us and keep dancing, strengthen your muscles and quicken your steps so that you may be lighter on your feet. So that you may fight better in the future, so you may not be so easily felled. We are yours and we will teach you. I suddenly wanted everything she grew in me ripped out like a root, but such a complex network of veiny tubers cannot be pulled up like that, not unless you want a bunch of churned up insides and broken blood vessels.
I didn’t know yet about the slow dissolution it would take, the constant coaxing with a careful finger, to pull it out gently, examine it strand by strand. An unhurried vigilance. Patience.
I am grateful for the opportunity to be uncomfortable. In the strange and lonely corners of discomfort is where I find those moments of beautiful sadness when life pulsates vibrantly around me and within me, opening my heart to accept the raw and the brutal equivocally with the selfless and kind.
I am thankful for second chances. Deserved or undeserved, but truly given without reservation. Given to me and to others, but most importantly, the one I gave to myself.
I am grateful that my mum died quickly. She had 28 days from her diagnosis, to the end. She had only 28 days to go from a fully functioning human being to being unconscious and unresponsive. She had only a few weeks to experience the physical pain, but also to experience the loss of her independence and pride. Every day I am grateful for the speed at which my mum’s light burned out.
Let it sound cliché – I am grateful for my family.
For my parents, who picked up their bags and moved across the world to make something of themselves and despite the hurricane of the American Reality, instilled enough faith to make something of their children.
For my grandfathers, the bittersweet legacy they left and the love they lived.
For my grandmothers, independent women running the world and who were throwing their hands up before Beyoncé could get down like that.
For my brother, engineering his clever way to great things.
And for my little sister, the light and joy of my life, eleven years old and the strongest person I know. Who needs a thyroid anyways?
I am grateful life beat me into submission, because that’s how I learned to fight with compassion instead of fury. I’m not broken, I’m bendable, and I can survive anything. Damaged goods are the best kind there are.
I was pissed, I was virile, I was a clot of gamey teenager. I wanted to fight and draw and write and make messes and I was hoping maybe that I could go into an alley and get raped and then murdered and then maybe someone would rape my bones. That was the good type of mood I was in when I first picked up a copy of Leontiev’s Political Economy. And then suddenly I was critical and I started to get a little strategic and maybe even tactical at times. But then there were these people that welcomed me into this big house that used to be the Ukranian Cultural Center it was a big wooden house in West Adams with large banisters and upstairs there was a bookstore. The woman that worked there was an old Bolshevik named Esther and she was at least seventy years old and she joked about going outside and feeling a breeze and when she looked down she realized she’d forgotten her pants and if we ever had a rally and someone was gonna get arrested she raised her hand up high, because really who would want to arrest her? And we had meetings in that big old house and we plotted how we were gonna find a solution and my heart was on fire and I took all that gamey anger and pushed toward plotting for a revolution. At night sometimes when I’m reading a book I feel that same loud hummm in my bones. The hum of my heart and mind being on fire. Sometimes it happens when I’m writing or occasionally even if I cook something. It always starts in my head these things. I’ll close my eyes and write a story or draw a picture or imagine a meal and then when the image in my mind matches the world around me my hairs stand on end and I can even still have my eyes shut when I am doing one of these various things and I will just know know know I am getting it right. I don’t know what all I think about god but I think that music, and good books, and graffiti and whatever it is that makes me feel like I’m part of something wonderful (whether it be creating something new or blowing shit up) is sort of like whispers from god and I’m grateful for all of that.
Melissa Ann Chadburn
I am grateful for balance.
Things I have lost over the past four years:
1. A grandfather
2. A three-year relationship
3. A furniture set
4. A dog
5. A dining room table
6. My ten-year plan
7. Two cats
8. A relationship
9. Several friends
10. What I thought I knew to be true
11. My wall
12. Some rigidity
13. A relationship
14. My desire to be a therapist
Things I have gained over the past four years:
1. A sense of self
2. Armpit hair
3. A great queer community
4. Strong, healthy friendships
6. My writing voice
7. Support/love for who I am
8. A wider perspective
10. Feeling in my body
11. Access to my feelings
12. A greater sense of self-trust
13. Clarity on what I need and want
15. A sense of joy
17. A hot pair of boots
I just got home from an appointment with a surgeon. I learned about thirty minutes ago that my cancer is not metastatic and surgery will resolve it. Surgery is Monday. It is my second time with this cancer (melanoma). The first time I was 35 and now this time I’m 43. Who gets cancer twice by 43?
I did. And right now I am profoundly grateful for just my life.
I’m grateful for taking out the trash. Every time I gather up the debris of the week — used ear buds, twisty-ties, a truly disgusting pile of dirt and dog hair — and race outside to the alley to get it set out before my trash guys come, I feel like a self-possessed adult. And for that, I am so grateful.
This wave of gratitude came over me about a decade ago in the first few months at my first real apartment. The place where I paid the rent with the money from my first real job. Where no one else was going to take out the trash or recycling if I didn’t do it. For some reason, that little chore brought it all home: I was on my own, in good health, held a job. I had put a roof over my head. I could have a party and friends would come over and dirty up the place. I had friends. That trash run meant in some small way I was making my way through the world.
There is nothing like feeling this way. Among the thousand of other things I’m grateful for (my wife, this little house, the mountains I can see from my city, food, beer, that my mom is alive another day). I’m telling you about the trash because:
- It shuts up my whiny inner teenager on trash day, and
- So many people aren’t in a position to even make trash, much less take it out. They don’t have a trashcan, or a kitchen, or a house. They can’t afford a dog to shed all over everything. They lost a job and can no longer pay for things that end up creating some trash.
Trash is a big deal, and I’m pretty damn lucky to take it out.