DEAR SUGAR, The Rumpus Advice Column #90: 94 Ways of Saying Thank You

By

Dear Readers,

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.

Love,
Sugar

***

Dear Sugar,

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.

Emily Johnson

 ***

Dear Sugar,

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.”

Kogi

 ***

Dear Sugar,

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.

KW

 ***

Courtney Lavender, Death Valley, California

***

Dear Sugar,

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.

Jenn

 ***

Dear Sugar,

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.

GD

 ***

***

Dear Sugar,

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.

Ella Boureau

 ***

Jfayestarr

***

Dear Sugar,

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.

Midwife

 ***

Dear Sugar,

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.

JC

 ***

Dylan Emrys, Stacked Stones, Asilomar Beach, Pacific Grove, California

***

Dear Sugar,

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.

AR

 ***

Dear Sugar,

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?

Shahzadi

 ***

Dear Sugar,

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.

Liz Roberts

 ***

Dear Sugar,

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.

Love,
Melissa Ann Chadburn

 ***

Sassy Queenpin Mama

Dear Sugar,

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
5. Boundaries
6. My writing voice
7. Support/love for who I am
8. A wider perspective
9. Spirituality
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
14. Confidence
15. A sense of joy
16. Courage
17. A hot pair of boots

In thanks,
Grey

***

Dear Sugar,

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.

Kathleen M.

 ***

Dear Sugar,

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:

  1. It shuts up my whiny inner teenager on trash day, and
  2. 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.

Loren

 ***

Dear Sugar,

In May of 2009 I had a stroke. In February of 2010 a colleague I hadn’t seen since then greeted me, saying, “You’ve come back from the dead.” He’s speaking too soon, I thought. Nine months after my stroke, even though I seemed fine, I was a shell. Twenty-one months after seeing my friend, the stone continues to roll away.

It wasn’t until this past summer that I became aware of what I’d lost and was able to find a way to hold onto, the concrete memory of losing something. Remembering what you’re forgetting has become a wonderful gift! As a result, I am becoming myself, all over again. Mostly, I’m seeing that through what others are saying to me. I haven’t heard words like these since before my brain was injured:

– “Mommy, you have to invite Andy to Thanksgiving. He’s a special part of our family. He takes care of us when you’re not there.”

– “You speak your heart and mind so well, Andy, I can almost feel you. You are a wonderfully and beautifully made man. Don’t forget that.”

– “Well there isn’t much to say except you are wise and honest and bold and hmm-mmm and if I ever meet you in person I will wrap my arms around you in gratitude.”

– “A friend of mine, a sage and prolific man. . . . Thank you Andy, for your wise guidance and inspiration.”

– “Wow. Wow. Just wow.”

When it comes to brain function, people have their own back-up systems, already installed. I am thankful for neurons that can be re-wired, along new pathways. I’m so glad, to become myself, again.

Andy Parker

 ***

Beth Hannon Fuller

***

Dear Sugar,

I’m grateful for my own tenacious spirit, which has gotten me through this difficult year. My husband of nearly 25 years left me earlier this year. I have not only survived the experience, but thrived and grown on my own. It feels like a miracle, and I’m living it every single day.

Radiant Lisa

 ***

Dear Sugar,

I was 53-years old when I became a first time mother. My daughter was 3; she was abandoned at about the age of 3 months, and since then had lived in a Chinese orphanage. My husband Keith and I decided to adopt a child because we wanted a family. We had the best intentions.

But it didn’t go smoothly. Julie was an independent, energetic, strong-minded and stubborn little girl. While I could intellectually appreciate these qualities as having probably contributed to her survival, in daily life it was exhausting. Also, she didn’t like me. She liked Keith.

When we returned from China with Julie, Keith went back to work, and Julie and I were left to contend with each other. It wasn’t pretty. I felt like we had ruined all of our lives.

One day, as I was looking at Julie in the yard, who helping her dad rake leaves with her little child-sized rake, it hit me. She really had had no one. She really had been alone. Now we were her someones. I realized immediately it was up to me to make this work, and that if I didn’t she would be the one paying the price.

Since that moment I have devoted myself to her and, amazingly, in return, she to me. It has been the most incredible experience of my life.

Best,
Val Cashman

***

Dear Sugar,

What I am grateful for: That as life unfolds it has only got better. Not easier, but steadily more complex, difficult, interesting, meaningful and challenging. And most of all that I have been lucky enough to discover depths and layers of love I’d never even imagined, love that almost hurts.

Nikki Magennis

 ***

Dear Sugar,

In 1999, a gangly, seemingly aloof, sometimes sneering, often sexy, balding, mid-30s man walked into my poetry workshop wearing a leather hat, a leather jacket, worn jeans, and a guayabera. I have almost no memory of the classes he taught, but I remember these gorgeous palpable words he introduced me to—Mark Doty’s, Mary Karr’s, Tony Hoagland’s, Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s, Lynda Hull’s—him inviting his students to an end-of-semester party where he drunkenly recited one of his poems detailing a particular method for cunnilingus, and probably sang Ziggy Stardust. And I remember two years later when he invited me out along with a couple other promising students—as well as teachers, musicians, and others—to come celebrate with him at Frank Dobie’s ranch, where he was the fellow that spring and summer. I remember the years after, his complications, his love for words, his devious smile, and his incomparable love for his son. When this man disappeared 10 years after I met him, I went back to that thing that he taught me, that thing he broke open, peeled back for me, the only thing that could get me back to this side of inconsolable. Because I am still inconsolable. But I am grateful that the day he went missing, and every day since then, I’ve had this other thing, this impossible substitute he provided that lets me put pen to paper and end up with poetry. This thing I would trade for him in a heartbeat, but which is so dear, when there is no trade to be given.

The photo below was taken of my late friend and former professor Craig Arnold during the author photo shoot that I did with him in Austin during November 2007, and to me absolutely represents gratitude. It wasn’t until I started interrogating why that photo meant gratitude to me that I was able to realize that, for me, Craig is poetry. That like that mythological pomegranate, Craig had given me this other kind of knowledge, this lovely and devastating experience you can never come back from unchanged.

Sincerely,
Volcanic

***

Dear Sugar,

I am grateful for my parents, Barb and Earl, whom I once thought boring and painfully regular. They have lived their Midwestern American lives like many people do – earning a living doing difficult jobs, giving us children the things we madly desired, and spending most all their free time in family activity. The blessings that normalcy has heaped upon me is exponential. Because of their steady values and clean living, I have what I now recognize as a wholeness of spirit. It turns out the random-seeming gift of a happy childhood is not to be underestimated.

Of course, the most amazing part is that they gave me this without any obligation. How do you thank your parents for a gift like that? It won’t be enough, but I plan to tell them this year that I am forever indebted and grateful for the gift of being their daughter.

Rocky Lewis

 ***

Dear Sugar,

I am thankful for my dog—for his long floppy ears, sweet expression, and cuddly ways. My dog will never really know it, but he’s saved my life. No matter how depressed or anxious or terrible I feel, I always remind myself that suicide is never an option because I could never leave my dog. Even when my fiancé left me completely out of the blue a few years ago, and I then went to a very dark place, the biggest reason I held on wasn’t because I thought things would get better, but because I had to stick around for my dog.

And now here I am. Still fucked up (but aren’t we all?), but I’m better and brighter. And still with the same sweet, faithful, adorable dog by my side.

Astrid

 ***

Dear Sugar,

I am so grateful to have found what I most wanted from life. I wanted to know whether love, true love, exists. I am living the answer. Yes, yes.

EM

 ***

Dear Sugar,

When I found out I was adopted, my heart became haunted by faces I had never met and feelings that could find no recipient. I didn’t go on a search, but I began speculating what in me were actually the shadows of people I did not know. Were they in my hair? My eyes? Did their voices sound like mine?

I had never seen a picture. Bangladesh was too far and too expensive from the US to travel without a clear plan. I waited.

The shadows waited too – patiently, for 18 years, they had heard stories and rumors that kept me alive in their imaginations. When I finally did return, I felt like the prodigal daughter, rather than the stranger who must navigate sharp etiquette lines. They had saved a place for me throughout the years, like an idea that was about to form.

I am grateful for that empty place at the table. I am thankful that sometimes people need not know each other to care for them. We are contributing to the stockpile of love in the universe – whether that’s through writing advice columns or finding gratitude in the hardest moments. What we manifest is who we ultimately become.

Be well,
Jordan Alam

 ***

Dear Sugar,

Love, tea, colors, a house in which to live, pomegranates, dogs, the sky, friends, telephones, farmer’s markets, the earth, vegetables, fruits, family, chocolate, love, trees, summer, spring, winter, fall, my partner, a job, tears, bodies, healers, spinach, yoga, sunshine, fire, the ocean, sex, connection, creativity, and love.

Linda

 ***

Sugar’s daughter, making bread.

***

Dear Sugar,

I am grateful for how much I have fucked up.

Before I fucked up, I thought I was a good person. I thought I was noble, and pure, and I thought I did good deeds in the lives of the people I loved. But over the course of years I fucked up. I mistook codependence for partnership. I mistook my craving to be needed and loved for altruism. I mistook the dependence I created in others for strength shared. I mistook my distance and withholding for self-sufficiency.

But I fucked up, and I learned. I am not a good person today. Neither am I a bad person. Instead I am a person who strives to behave like the sort of person I want to be. I try to live as if I am good, knowing that I have failed before. Failure keeps me from the corrosive trap of certainty, and I am grateful for it.

Best wishes to you and yours,
Sigrid Ellis

 ***

Addie Tsai, self-portrait

***

Dear Sugar,

I am grateful to have found my place. Geographically, vocationally, spiritually, emotionally. I spent the first thirty-five years of my life flailing, only to find what I was looking for, right back where I started. That T.S. Eliot line, “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” That’s me. I bottomed out in a dark, lonely place where I sat in the bathtub every night and cried. Now when I tell people about my life, they swoon with envy (literally, oftentimes), and it’s all I can do not to giggle with joy. I am grateful to have found my place, and I am grateful for the journey that brought me here, because how could I appreciate what I have without all of those dark nights? I am patient and compassionate with people who are struggling to find their way, because I was there. I am grateful that I can honestly tell them, “Keep trying, don’t give up, it gets better,” and I think most of the time they can hear the truth in my voice.

VF

 ***

Dear Sugar,

I am grateful to be an alcoholic. When I went to my first AA meeting at 24, I felt shame, embarrassment, resentment and jealousy, but I definitely didn’t feel grateful. I thought life as I knew it was over when I stopped drinking, and the truth is it was.

But in just two years, I’ve built a new life where I have real relationships with positive people, I have standards, I have feelings and I feel them, I look in the mirror and I don’t hate who I see anymore, I contribute to other people’s lives instead of stealing their time and peace of mind, and I can sleep at night.

In sobriety, I’m finally starting to discover who I am and it’s so much more than the girl who grew up in a dysfunctional, alcoholic family; the girl who was raped when she was 15; the girl who was trapped in an abusive relationship. Those things no longer define my future or me. Today I have hope and that’s truly a gift.

Young in Sobriety

***

Dear Sugar,

On 23rd of July this year I was at a 50th birthday party and I met a man who has been on the periphery of my life since the 80’s. We started talking. We didn’t stop. He came home to my house and we fell asleep in each other’s arms. We are in love. There are complications. He has a young son. I don’t have any children. He works nights, I work days so it’s hard for us to be together as much as I would like. But when we are, I am happier than I have been in years. I feel safe with him. We get on! We value each other and show it. We met on the day Amy Winehouse died. I am grateful to be alive, and grateful to have S. in my life.

Anna

 ***

***

Dear Sugar,

I’m a lesbian transsexual, and I spent half my childhood praying to wake up a girl, and the other half praying for Charon to let me on his boat early. I wanted out, Sugar, out from the feeling a lynching was one confession away. Instead, two years ago I came out and no one turned and made me watch their heels as they exited my life. I’m blessed. Family held me so that I would never want to run away again. Friends laughed with me as I talked about wanting boobs, even though I still had a voice deep as the Marianas Trench. I even began to realize I could want things just for me, things that wouldn’t help anyone but me, and that that would be okay.

And I’m thankful for my girlfriend, whose stayed with me through all of this. Not out of pity or duty, but because I’m the one she loves, hairy or hairless, large or lithe. She’s far away for the time being, so today I sent her a box of 100 construction paper hearts, each with one thing about her I loved. I lined the mailer with ginger snap cookies in Ziploc bags. I love her so crazy much, Sugar. I never imagined I could love somebody so much. Growing up, it wasn’t that I lacked for love, but that I thought monsters like me had no love to give.

I’m so thankful to receive without the fear of rejection. Thankful to hold someone without them wilting. Thankful to hold stake in my own happiness. Sure, things bite shit sometimes. But there are arms in the world that want me, and two of them are my own. That’s plenty.

With love,
M

 ***

Christine Fischer

***

Dear Sugar,

When I was thirteen there was a nasty divorce, and my father won majority custody of my two siblings and me. My mom, who had seen motherhood as the most important job she’d ever had, quickly became depressed and alcoholic.

Our relationship, once close, became fraught. I was in the throes of adolescent assholery, learning the hard truth that our parents are not the flawless and wise beings we assume as children. She was in the throes of doubting her entire worth as a human being. We screamed a lot. One night, I didn’t come home from school until 8:30 at night and she called all my friends’ parents out of worry. When she broke her ankle one Valentine’s Day (after falling, a bit drunk, on the ice), I was too angry at her clumsiness to even come downstairs to wait for the paramedics with her friend and my brother. When she lost her driver’s license due to a DUI, I did only the bare minimum of driving errands for her.

When I was 20, a sophomore at my hometown college, she had a second DUI. My brother, a minor, was in the car with her. I had to pick her up (still drunk) from the police station, where she screamed at me that no one loved her anymore. The penalty was two months in jail, albeit on work release, working 12-hour days to keep her time behind bars at minimum. She had to spend Thanksgiving eating canned turkey with a Spork, with no visitors allowed because it wasn’t a Sunday. My brother and sister and I visited her every other week, almost, which was about the most we possibly could. We got one hug at the start and finish of each visit. We made good use of them.

When she got home, shortly before Christmas, she quit drinking and started volunteering at the local farmer’s market. We all began to heal, not just from the shock of her imprisonment, but from the violence of our family’s split as well. Today, I am 26, my mom has stayed sober, and she is one of the best friends I have, in all the clichéd ways that phrase suggests.

I’m thankful to have my mother back. And thankful that I did not succeed at pushing her out of my life.

Chris

 ***

Dear Sugar,

The last few years have been filled with disappointment, death and profound rejection. There were times I was afraid I couldn’t go on. My wonderful friends showed me the way back into the sunlight. My true wealth is the collection the friends and mentors I’ve accumulated. I prize them not for what they’ve done for me, but the fierce way they conduct their lives with generosity and forgiveness. They’ve given me the most valuable thing of all: hope.

Antonia Crane

 ***

Sugar’s son making art.

***

Dear Sugar,

When I was eight years old, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic condition in which the body’s white blood cells attack its own joint tissue, causing swelling, stiffness, pain, and loss of mobility. My life changed forever that day. Now, at age 33, I take a weekly medication that makes me nauseated and fatigued for about 36 hours, in addition to daily anti-inflammatory drugs, whose slightly disorienting side effects no longer even phase me. I have always had to be under regular medical surveillance. I can never drop the health insurance I have now – for which I pay an astronomical monthly premium – because I won’t get any other insurance due to my pre-existing condition. My condition makes me need more sleep than the average person, but I live in a culture that thinks I should work just as hard as the average person – even harder – to pay for my care.

Having RA has closed a lot of doors for me in terms of both careers and hobbies. I can’t do any jobs that require standing, walking, lifting, or physical exertion of any sort, eliminating careers I might seriously have considered, such as becoming a chef, a massage therapist, or even a preschool teacher. I can only exercise in water, and consistently have to decline enticing invitations from friends to go dancing, hiking, biking, or skydiving.

I could have become an embittered, small person, boxed in by limitations on all sides, with a safe benefits-providing soul-killing job and a safe husband in a safe town and television every night and a sinking disappointment in my gut that my life could have been otherwise.

Instead, I found both art and the deep compassion that resides inside other people, and these blessings have helped me grow into someone who strives to live every day to its fullest, and who, in spite of all the things I can’t do, is unable to imagine a life long enough to do and see and experience all that this amazing world has to offer.

All of the arts, but particularly literature and music, the two I practice, have been a source of solace, comfort, inspiration, and confirmation that anything is possible if we dare to imagine it. Reading books taught me that heroes always face great danger and intimidating odds, and helped me feel connected to other people when I felt isolated by my difference. Writing allowed me to make sense of my own journey and imagine possible futures for myself that were too outrageous to be presented to me by well-meaning adults, or even peers. Making music has helped me reconnect with my body, from which I had distanced myself as a child, allowing me to live as a more whole organism, even with chronic pain.

Though living with a chronic illness can make one feel alienated from the generally able-bodied populace, I have found that, in general, other people are kind, generous, compassionate, and loving. Starting with my parents, who did the best they could to provide me with a “normal” childhood (including not allowing me to use my condition as an excuse for poor grades or bad behavior), and continuing to the random stranger who helped me lift a bag onto the bus yesterday, there have been so many people in my life who have lent a hand when I needed it, who have encouraged me toward my goals (such as living abroad, touring in bands, and founding and editing a literary magazine), who have supported me when I’ve been discouraged, and who have told me that I inspire them. Friends have sat on the edges of dance parties and people-watched with me. Band-mates have carried my gear. Handsome, intelligent men have loved me for the whole me, including my broken body. My mother took care of me for five weeks after I had to have emergency knee surgery.

Because of my status as an “outsider” of sorts, I’ve always identified with the underdogs and the downtrodden, leading me to question “the way things are” and advocate for social change. Because of the great love I’ve received from other people, I believe that we can create a world that is more compassionate and just than the one that those in power are currently – rather desperately – trying to defend. Because of the power of art to touch people – because it has touched me so deeply – I know that we have the tools to unite people to create a world based on the deep humanity that inhabits each one of us.

I’m not perfect. My life’s not perfect. Some days I still struggle mightily. But I am happy, and I am trying to do good work to help make other people happy. Living with a chronic illness has taught me patience, humility, and the importance of not giving up, qualities that have seen me through a number of other life challenges and allowed me to help others with theirs. I can’t even imagine who I would be if I hadn’t been diagnosed with RA all those years ago.

So, on this yearly occasion when we give thanks for all we have, I ask myself: for what am I grateful? For the disorder in my body that has made me who I am, in spite of the distress it’s caused me? Or for the art and the people that have helped me make the best of it? I must conclude that, like the cells that ravage other cells in my body, it is impossible to separate the elements of one’s life from each other – the trial from the courage it built, the mistake from the good lesson learned, the tragedy from the compassion it evoked.

I am thankful for it all.

Love,
Deborah

 ***

Dear Sugar,

I am grateful that though I often felt the need, I did not kill myself this year. I am grateful that I spared my partner, who loves me greatly, and who I love in return, the horror of surviving a suicide. I’m grateful that I have leaned that there is always light at the end of the tunnel, even if I can’t see it yet.

Joe Joe

 ***

Jfayestarr

***

Dear Sugar,

I am grateful for the losses I have endured, for the heartbreaks I have suffered, and for the cruelty I have witnessed. Without these, I’d not have the perspective, wisdom, and knowledge that I value in myself.

I am appreciative of the fact that these days I can cry tears that are more honest than ever before, that my heart is not aching in vain, that I know that I’m doing right by me.

I am so thankful for my naughty dog, who greets me gleefully, rifles through the trash, and reminds me to find joy in all things.

Ellen

 ***

Dear Sugar,

Your column has saved me in so many ways. It has buoyed me and lifted me along the dark spots of this past year with humility and humor and I thank you so much for that. I can’t imagine the crushing sense of responsibility that you must feel some days, to hear constantly about other people’s struggles and sorrows. You’re amazing.

And today? Today I am grateful for MomGuilt. No, really, I am.

On nights like last night, when The Monkey whined for three hours straight through, stopping only twice to breathe…

Or on nights like Monday where Mr. Man quite literally laid down on the kitchen floor and mulishly refused to do his homework…

Or on nights like tonight when The Eldest is trying desperately to fill the ‘good child’ void, that she’s overcompensating to a frustrating degree…

On nights when I lose my temper so badly I have to lock mySELF in the bathroom for a timeout lest I end up on the 11 o’clock news in my bathrobe and monkey slippers… On nights when I have tucked everyone in, snapped my goodnights out perhaps too quickly, stormed down the steps too harshly, plopped myself on the couch too happily, and felt the ooze of MomGuilt seeped in around the cracks and settle around my bones…

I am still grateful.

I am grateful for each whiny, needy, annoyingly wonderful amazing Munchkin in my life. Even when I am wracked with guilt over the duties, trials and tribulation that the moniker bestows, being a Mom is still the best thing I have ever done. They are the best things I’ve ever done.

I am grateful for MomGuilt. It reminds me, simply, that I am a Mom.

Best,
Caralyn

 ***

Dear Sugar,

For most of my life, Thanksgiving has been a gut-wrenching holiday. When I was a child we’d occasionally go to church around the holidays and the kids parked around the bean-shaped tables would answer the same question you posed with easy conviction, spilling answers like “loving parents,” “warm houses,” and “good food.” I always choked on my words and felt a cold tremor while stumbling through some lie about how I was grateful for all that, too. Inside, however, I felt the dull thud of falsehood and I was left believing I must be a terrible person if I couldn’t be grateful, too.

As I grew I realized most of those kids didn’t grow up like I did – isolated, brainwashed, periodically abandoned, ignored, beaten, molested, hungry and cold. As my eyes opened to the cruel reality, Thanksgiving took on a new meaning – a Minnesota-nice veiled rage about all that life failed to give me. I began loathing the holiday season before Halloween hit and I crashed through November and December in a full-blown panic, trying desperately to be normal but feeling anything but. I started taking seasonal summer jobs so I could leave the country for the whole holiday mess, sleeping alone through the darkest time of the year in cheap, flimsy beach huts in developing countries.

And then, two years ago, after I was married to a kind, sweet man and had spent some time in therapy, Thanksgiving morphed yet again. Now as I sit at an oak table on that final Thursday in November, I find myself surrounded by heaps of warm, nourishing food, scores of people who love me just as I am, and a budding love for myself. I often feel so profoundly and devastatingly grateful I have to remind myself to breathe. And then, as I think of that little girl at the bean-shaped table all those years ago, I am reminded that there was nothing wrong with her – she was entirely capable of gratitude, she just couldn’t feel it as she hadn’t yet tasted the goodness of life. So this particular Thanksgiving I’m grateful that little girl survived and that she fought so righteously hard to get the hell out. Because now I have the chance to feel that soul-balming gratitude for all the good in my life.

M

 ***

Dear Sugar,

I am grateful for my family; we immigrated to a small Northeastern state in the US from a large Northeastern city in China. We love each other even though we don’t express it aloud. I’ve been an unemployed college graduate for the last half year and it’s been difficult living at home and adjusting to their curfew. It has been like slowly dying recently. But my parents gave me a check recently to help with the cost of moving to New York City, land of hope and new dreams. I’m going to face a brave new world like our family did almost twenty years ago, and I will forever be grateful that my parents love me enough to let me go.

FG

 ***

Dear Sugar,

Gratitude is a word taken for granted. Just like please and thank you we rush, acting polite but not really being. This, my fiftieth year, has been one of my roughest ever. Losing my job, losing my sense of self. So gratitude is even more important to make tangible the moments that infuse life back into the lost.

The small hand of my six year old slipping into mine as we cross the parking lot, The smile on the 13 year old who has never failed to greet me with a kiss and a hug at the door, the confidence and grace of my oldest as she prepares to leave home. The way my husband smells like home. The way his belief never falters

The friends who never fail to ask the hard questions. Who show up to worry and to carry the worry and to blow it all off. The ability to keep laughing.

The strength to know tomorrow is another chance—the ability to understand that many others won’t have my tomorrow.

Health, the impossible driving good spirit of my friend fighting cancer. The search for justice as it occupies, streets and campus’s face book postings, coffee shops and the voices of the people.

The sound of the ocean, the pounding of rain, the smell of fall in the air- the reminder that I continue to be gratefully a small part of a larger whole

By the way, I’m grateful to have found me some Sugar. Thank you for being there.

Barbara Bloom

 ***

Mr. Sugar, puddle with Sugar’s sneakers.

***

Dear Sugar,

I’ve recently spent a lot of time–as much as I can between high school and conventional relationships–at the Occupy movement where I live. A near year ago I was molested by a man (and I’m used to being harassed by others), which I feel guilty acknowledging because I want desperately to trust all people and not let single experiences shape my broader perceptions, but nobody’s been proving that man wrong. Most of the men at Occupy make me similarly at unease, unfortunately with reason, to the point where I’ve had reservations about going, even though the cause is extremely close to my heart. Most days I have a hard time believing good men will make any appearances in my life.

Yesterday I stayed at the rally later than usual: someone with knobby teeth and the softest voice I’ve ever heard in a man told me he remembered me from past weeks and missed me when I didn’t show up, gave me a pair of gloves to keep warm and wished me a happy Thanksgiving. I’m grateful for that. I desperately need men like him to remind me that empathy is real and destined to touch my heart too, as much as I wish I didn’t.

T

 ***

Dear Sugar,

I am most grateful for having the most amazing woman to be my mother. I lost her four years ago to ovarian cancer, but she lives with me everyday in the decisions I make, the words I speak, the thoughts I have, the way I live, the way I treat those around me. She was amazing, strong, faithful and respectful of all. I am so grateful, she taught me love. I never had a moment when I doubted that I was loved by her and for that I am grateful.

Liz

 ***

Dear Sugar,

I am grateful for my husband. At first I wanted him to act as my refuge from myself, which he would not. And I resented him for not making me whole. But now (yes, 25 years later!) I find I am whole, with my holes. He cannot rescue me, but he is with me. He is my friend, he tells me the truth, and makes me laugh. There’s nothing more I need.

I am grateful for our son. This gorgeous, intelligent, frustrating, terrifying, loving human being exceeds any wildly optimistic dream I ever had—how could I have possibly known what gift I was given at his birth? I am grateful that this young man has never stopped telling me he loves me, never stopped hugging me and deliberately seeking my council. He has broken me open—I have never felt more terror, more love, more hope, more joy since his first breaths, steps and sprint to adulthood and, at times, (at least in my eyes) certain tragedy.

I am grateful that even though I was born in poverty and was at times homeless, I now live in prosperity and abundance; and I don’t mean just monetary wealth or the amount of money and things I have or could have, but the wealth of experiences and love I have surrounding me, even if I times I stubbornly remain blind to them.

I live in the shadows of redwoods, and in the mist of the bays; where I take morning walks above marshmallow clouds, with that friend I mention above and a dog that loves with pure abandon.

Not bad for a girl who grew up rather sad and alone, feeling in some strange way distinguished by the tragedy of her life, not having a clue of all the riches this world had in store for her—and the amount of gratitude she would eventually feel.

Beth

 ***

Dear Sugar,

The smell of the earth and the sunlight through the trees.

Martin

 ***

Dear Sugar,

I am grateful for my Pilates instructor, who said, “You are strong, you can do this” when I was afraid to do wall stands. A year and a half ago I decided I was sick of the body I lived in and set out to change it. I’m not as skinny as I’d like yet but I work hard and sometimes I forget to enjoy the machine I’ve made my body into. Getting into that wall stand and looking at my grinning face in the mirror was concrete proof that I am capable of amazing things. All it took was one person to believe in me to get me to push myself further. I may not write like a motherfucker but I spin, run, lift, and now do wall stands like a motherfucker, and I love what I can do.

Kitty P.

 ***

Jfayestarr, “Having the chance to put makeup on my 92 year old grandma. Gratitude.”

***

Dear Sugar,

You can build a beautiful life for yourself. You can have a vision for your life, a shape that you want it to take. You may want it to curve here and flare there. To be of this color and that texture. Some of it you can control, some is shaped for you. In the end you have a vessel that holds your soul. Some vessels are exquisite creations and some are utilitarian. All are beautiful.

I imagine that, for most of my adult life, my vessel might have looked like a beautiful long necked earthenware vase with a narrow opening at the top and a wide, spreading gourd of a bottom. It had never been a very comfortable shape for me to be honest, and finally, after a few curveballs and several mistakes, I broke.

It was messy and awful, but a blessing, too. I found that a breakdown doesn’t have to be the end, just an opportunity to become something new. I realized I could reshape the shards of the old container into something new. I am thankful for my new vessel. It is wide and shallow. It has no neck, no constrictions – it is a bowl open to the universe. There are no hidden deep cavities where dark parts of my psyche slosh around. This bowl holds the clear, still water of my soul right out in the open. No matter how many mistakes are made, this vessel is built to let the pressure out and let new ways of knowing and being in. In Japan, when a vessel breaks or cracks, it is mended with a lacquer that is laced with powdered gold. It is the cracks and the mending that make Kintsugi pottery so beautiful and precious.

I am thankful for curveballs and mistakes. Without them, I would still be living a small, constricted life. Instead, I am the proud creator of my new vessel, one that will let me live the wide-open life I am meant for.

Amy Rutten

 ***

Dear Sugar,

I am grateful for the mutated SMN1 gene that has kept me grounded (literally in a wheelchair) for 22 years of my little life. I am grateful for the atrophied muscles that teach me patience and to the ones I still have for giving me hope. I am grateful for all the people who died fighting so I could live in a world where my disability isn’t a part of myself to be hidden, but to give thanks for.

Love,
Julia

 ***

Dear Sugar,

I am grateful for coming down with a raging case of the flu on June 11, 2009. Because of that fever, I felt loopy enough to come home early from work and end a relationship that had been so emotionally abusive for nearly two years that at many points I had thought that I would not live through it. I am grateful for the days that came after, with a built-in cushion for sitting on the couch all day in my pajamas and wrapping myself in blankets even though it was summer in the Arizona valley. I am thankful for being so ready to do well by myself, so ready to embrace my own tiny inner voice that when he came to collect his things later that week, it still stung, but only in a surface-level way. I am thankful for having the strength and confidence to rebuild my life and start over and keep myself from making the same mistakes with another man all over again. I might never be so thankful for being so sick ever again, because that fever was push I needed to focus on just one thing: taking care of myself.

Rachel Malis

 ***

***

Dear Sugar,

I am 38 years old and my mother is dying. We will have 1-3 months left with her in our lives. I found this out on Tuesday, and I’m writing to you today on Friday. It may seem that I don’t have much to be grateful for, but, oh Sugar, I do.

I’m grateful I had the mother that everyone deserves—she is strict and smart and loving and kind and thoughtful. I always knew she loved me even when I was being the most awful version of myself. My mother is also unbelievably stubborn and a bit judgmental, and I am grateful that I got to see the not so good side of her through the years as well. By loving me, imperfect as I am, she showed me how to love the imperfect in others.

I am a single foster parent, and the very fact of my luckiness has only been brought home to me more clearly by raising and loving children whose parents chose to be the awful version of themselves most of the time and never thought to say “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong.” Love is not “never having to say you’re sorry”—it’s saying, “I’m sorry; I was a jackass; I should have done/said that differently.”

There are days since Tuesday, when we found out the news, that I literally feel like I cannot breathe because I’m so overwhelmingly sad to be losing my mother, who over the years has become my best friend. But, I’m also grateful I have this time with her that a sudden death wouldn’t have given me. I’m grateful I get to say to her everything I want to say and that I get to be with her when she leaves. I’m grateful I moved back to my hometown 2 years ago so I don’t have to miss any of this…not one awful, painful, blessed, miraculous minute.

Stacey

 ***

Dear Sugar,

I live in a sparsely populated, heavily forested corner of the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas. When my son returned from his travels to Europe he commented on the streets crowded with people, the occasional park the only green to meet the eye. We agreed that we’re grateful to live where there are more trees than people.

Patty

 ***

Dear Sugar,

I’m grateful for poems. Yes, poems. I am a first year graduate student in English, and having the privilege to read them as a manner of being is the greatest, most beautiful vocation I can imagine. I’ve always loved poetry, but this year I have realized with fresh urgency just how much poetry serves as a sustaining element in my life. When I enter the world of a poem, I get to watch as it makes me and the world I inhabit anew, over and over. This process, whether I am writing poems or reading them, is a way to distill joy and pain and longing and to somehow harness the beauty of it all. As Olga Broumas’ poem “Beginning with O” so eloquently states: “we must find words / or burn.”

MLG

 ***

Dear Sugar,

This year’s Thanksgiving will be the toughest of holidays. You’ve written a lot about losing your mother to cancer, and exactly a month before this Thanksgiving, I lost my mom to cancer. She was a relentlessly optimistic, strong, and graceful person, and I am thankful for the 31 years I got to have my mom in my life. I am thankful for the strength and perspective she imparted on me before she died and I know that everything she gave to me will somehow get me to the next day of dealing with her loss. That even in her death, she is guiding me through life. It is because of my mom that I know there is a better time ahead. She taught me to love, and be kind, to be strong, to be independent, to take care of myself, to forgive myself, follow my gut, and to have a sense of humor about it all. I couldn’t have asked for a better mom, and I’m thankful for her life.

CG

 ***

***

Dear Sugar,

I am grateful for the confidence to be alone, and not lonely. I am grateful for the way life takes you to the place farthest from what you dreamt for yourself, and that you can make a life for yourself, there.

Courtney

 ***

Dear Sugar,

I am grateful for that specific and timely kick in the ass that usually comes when I bitch and moan unnecessarily. Sometimes I take heed and I’m grateful for that too.

Lately, I’d developed two time consuming patterns: fussing with my son, and whining about getting old. Last week I read a Facebook post that delivered the aforementioned ass-kick. On behalf of his grief stricken wife, a man wrote that his beautiful, 39 year-old, happy, seemingly healthy step-daughter went to sleep and never woke up that morning, much like my mother did in 2003. My heart aches for this family, especially the young child she left behind. I know the pain they’re feeling now, and the excruciating road ahead of them. What the hell am I bitching about?

I am grateful for all my loved ones, for the memories left by those long gone, and those who woke up this morning. I am especially, perpetually grateful for my son. There’s nothing we can’t work out.

I’m grateful for you Sugar, for always encouraging us to rip it all away until we get to the ugly, face it, deal with it and build back something strong and beautiful. Writing or not, you are one bad motherfucker, and I say that all year ’round.

Thank you.

KR

***

Dear Sugar,

I am grateful for my sister. My only sibling. My best friend. I am especially grateful for the strength she has been blessed with.

At nineteen my sister had been to rehab twice. She ran away from home. Sinking in the muddy sickness of addiction, my little sister struggled with a disease my family didn’t understand.

Her disappearance in my life left me with nothing to hold onto. The sister I knew had slipped and fell, and left a mess of our family. But somehow she came back. She came back to sit in the driveway, unable to lift her body out of her beat up van. I entered that van with her. I looked her in the eyes and begged her not to give up. To grow up with me, to be at my wedding, to raise our kids together like we had planned. She could barely move her weak body out of the car. But somehow she did, and the strength it took her to face her heroin addiction has been inspiring.

With this inspiration came work. My parents struggled to understand. They blamed themselves and I blamed myself too. Family is unity; its feeling the pain and helping each other carry on with it. I am grateful that we were able to help her rebuild her sober life.

This week she will be visiting our high school to share her story. I couldn’t be more proud of my sister. I couldn’t be more grateful that she was able to find the strength and faith in herself that we all lose at times. She found her solid ground again. I’m just happy to have her alive and a part of my life.

Sincerely,
A loving sister

***

Dear Sugar,

I am grateful for the wonderful, challenging, intense, fulfilling, infuriating, enlightening, invigorating, exhausting, exciting job I have. I am the Director of the Arts Programs at a Boys and Girls Club, serving hundreds of incredible kids ages 7-18 years old. It is a job that I spent my entire life getting ready to be able to do and do as well as I can. It is a job that I didn’t even know I was dreaming of when I was a kid, yearning for and craving for a place where I could feel safe to be and express myself. Now, I get to create that space for these kids every day.

Yours,
Annie H. Kee

 ***

Dear Sugar,

Given that I am a 53 year old woman and finally out of what I couldn’t even recognize as a closet for many decades, and given that I’ve just gotten an email response from my estranged sister, who has hardly acknowledged me since my confession, and who, today, labeled in an email the love I have for my partner as “unnatural,” I am grateful for the handful of friends who have refused to let who I love alter their perceptions of me. And I am grateful for a new generation of young people who will fight to make sure that our culture puts an end to the deeply embedded hostility and discrimination against people based solely on who they choose to love.

I am not out to my 77-year-old mother yet. But I am grateful for the memory I have of what she once said after admitting that she couldn’t understand lesbians. She sighed and said, “But look at Ellen; she has to be the happiest woman on the face of the earth.”

Look at this woman, I want to tell her (in the attached photo; I am on the right):  she has to be the happiest woman on the face of the earth!

Bonnie Boaz

 

***

Dear Sugar,

I am grateful T. died. He was only nineteen and I still don’t understand a world where a nineteen year old, so full of life, dies of a heroin overdose. I am grateful because my little brother lived. I hope all those kids will wake up now, my brother included, but I can see now that there are no guarantees. I can see now that all you can do is your best and not let it destroy you when the ones you love fall. I can see now all the things about myself I never wanted to face; how afraid I am, how I hide from the world, how I try to control what can’t be controlled, how I fool myself.

T’s death gave me the strength to look myself in the face and deal with what I see. It gave me the strength to look at my crumbled, devastated family and deal with what I have: we are one long line of tunnel-visioned, strong, hardworking, alcoholic, drug addicted, in denial and unhappy messes of generations of people.

I want to stop, or at least do my best to alter the repeating pattern. I am grateful for self-awareness and for the knowledge that I will never, ever completely understand other people, the universe or myself and this is not a debilitating thought, it is a beautiful one. More than anything I am grateful for my husband; my genius unconscious tricked me into marrying him when my paranoid brain tried to talk me out of it. Marrying him was the best decision I ever made. I don’t know how I got so lucky.
Thank you.

S

***

Dear Sugar,

I’m grateful for stability—that I own my own home, that I have a salary and health insurance, that I have food in the fridge and can pay my bills (more or less) on time, that I have no massive debt.

I’m grateful that my family got their shit together. We were always one of those inhumanly close, Norman Rockwell families when I was growing up, but after my mom died and my dad started dating, it was touch-and-go there for a while. There was yelling and crying and drinking and a few sort of bullshit family counseling sessions and cold stony silences on long car drives and this scary dark cloud of discord looming over the horizon, threatening to turn us into one of those fractured families that can’t be in the same room together without fighting. It took some time, but the cloud passed us by. There’s no other way to say it but that we all simply got our shit together.

I’m grateful my stepmother recovered from breast cancer. I’m grateful my dad didn’t have to lose another wife he loved. I’m grateful that our family rallied around her the way they rallied around my mom, so she didn’t ever feel alone.

I’m grateful for how many women in my life have stepped up to be backup moms to me since I lost my own.

I’m grateful for amazing relationships. On the first anniversary of the day my mom died, my best friend Bill (we’ve been friends since we were 6) called me right at midnight from Hong Kong to tell me a funny story that began “I’ve discovered the world’s worst smell.” Last Christmas, a friend of mine from work gave me her grandmother’s nativity set, except she gave it to me a piece at a time, sneakily, over 2 weeks with the help of many accomplices, leaving shepherds and wise men all over Portland. I have friends that pray with me, friends that argue politics with me, friends that make me laugh, friends that let me cry, friends that watch and discuss “America’s Next Top Model” without judgment. I am rich in friends.

I’m grateful for the memory of my mother. She died in March of 2008, and sometimes it feels like yesterday and sometimes it feels like centuries ago. But more and more now, I feel her presence in me. When I make a perfect stew, when I say something witty at a cocktail party, when I stand up for myself, when I help somebody who needs help, I can feel her in me doing those things. People always say things like, “I can see your mom in you,” and I used to think it was just something that people say to make you feel better until I suddenly found myself able to feel it happening. It makes her, I don’t know, present, in a completely different way.

I’m grateful for other women who have lost mothers. I’m not grateful that it happened to them, or that it happened to me, but I’m grateful that if it HAD to happen, that we could all find each other to have a safe place to talk about stuff you can’t talk about with people who haven’t been through it.

I’m grateful for “Dear Sugar.”

I’m grateful for creativity.

I’m grateful for joy. I know so many people who are so stuck in their lives that they can’t take joy in anything. They don’t know where they’re going, they can’t let themselves go and be happy. I’m grateful that I can sit on the couch on a rainy night with a cup of tea and Jane Eyre and feel like the world can have nothing better to offer me.

I’m grateful I have so many books.

I’m grateful that fall in Oregon is so staggeringly beautiful.

I’m grateful anytime I get to sit down to a homemade meal at a table surrounded by people I love.

I’m grateful for the charmed, innocent, happy childhood I was blessed to have. I’m grateful my siblings and I didn’t have to carry with us into adulthood the heartbreaking burdens of poverty or abuse or pain or illness or isolation or a lack of trust that adults will protect you. I worked for eight years as a youth minister in my church, and children who have had their trust shattered by adults who should have protected them sometimes makes me so sad I don’t even know how to get out of bed. I’m grateful I did that job and did it well and don’t have to do it anymore.

I’m grateful for the strength to get out of shitty soul-sucking friendships. I’d be grateful for more of it.

I’m grateful – so, so bone-shakingly, collapsingly, huge-sigh-of-relief grateful – for everything that has happened to me in the past year that made me feel like a real writer. I’m grateful for the feeling that the universe was holding onto a vast backstock of writing-related blessings and dumped them all in my lap over the past year. I’m grateful that good things are happening, and that I have a vast community of support that is unhesitatingly and unabashedly full of joy whenever good things happen to me. I’m grateful that my heart is open enough that I feel the same about them. I’m grateful for a lack of jealousy and competition, and a bumper crop of genuine and enthusiastic encouragement.

I’m grateful for good coffee.

I’m grateful for hope.

I’m grateful for faith.

I’m grateful that I turned 30 this year and that the woman I’m becoming is pretty damn awesome.

CW

Jackie Allen-Doucot

 ***

Dear Sugar,

I’m a female computer programmer, and in my particular field of programming, there are about 50-60 men for every one woman. I have never worked with another woman professionally. Sometimes I get upset about the gender balance and prejudice I face. But, I am grateful that I have the opportunity to program in the first place. Had I lived in a slightly different time, or a slightly different location, or been raised by different people, this opportunity would have been denied to me. Despite the inconveniences, I get to do a job I love. Not everyone gets that. So, for my work, I am grateful.

EL

 ***

Dear Sugar,

This year I am grateful for so much, mainly surviving a long hospital stay. But, if I had to pick only one thing (and really, who can?) I would pick my husband. He stepped up to the plate with his best game on while I was in the hospital and the recovery time after. He ran the house, paid the bills, cared for the children, worked full time and still managed to keep his 4.0 average in grad school. He was sure I was going to die at times, and yet never let on to me or the children his fears. His love is overwhelming and I am more and more grateful for him every day.

CA Wohlmut

***

Dear Sugar,

My scars.

They mean I’m still here.

MS

 ***

Dear Sugar,

I am grateful for redemption, for second and third chances, for forgiveness (both for me and from me), for grace and kindness and more fullness in my life than I’d ever imagined I’d have. I am unimaginably lucky.

LF

 ***

Dear Sugar,

I am grateful to come from a family of storytellers. While the re-telling of stories over the years made my sisters roll their eyes, for me, those stories wove a tapestry of love from one generation of our family to the next. They made people come alive who were long dead and gave me a strong sense of identity and belonging, which I treasure. I aim to pass it on.

Happy Thanksgiving and thank you for letting us share.

Chris Bicknell Marden

 ***

Dear Sugar,

I didn’t have to think too hard about what I was grateful for. I spend my days working with children. I go wherever is needed within a middle school. I am what is known as a paraprofessional or a support to the teachers. My children have learning disabilities, behavior problems, traumatic brain injuries or are severally physically disabled and mentally disabled.

Today I was with a boy who summed it up for me. He is wheelchair bound; his body is twisted and unable to move on its own. He is non-verbal. The one thing that this boy seems to love, to really enjoy is music. He sits in a wheelchair with a tape recorder resting behind his head. When the music stops, he will whine until either he knows you are trying or you are able start the music again. Today he was lying on the floor with the physical therapist stretching his body when he was left alone for a few minutes just to relax. As I watched him he moved his hands to the music. His face lit up with a smile as he listened and moved any part of his body that he could. I began to wonder, had God/The Universe dealt this child another hand would he perhaps be a brilliant musician? A composer maybe or just a wonderful average guy who loved music?

I have my own difficulties with my children. My youngest not only has an autoimmune disease but also has severe asthma and is dyslexic. Working with a child like the one I was with today always snaps me back to the reality of what my life could be. Regardless of how hard my life may seem at times, I am ever so grateful that my children are as healthy as they are. They are functioning and able to live a normal life even if normal requires some adjustments, they are only adjustments. I am grateful, forever grateful that God/The Universe didn’t decide to deal me another hand.

Christine

 ***

Dear Sugar,

I am grateful that my life is teaching me lessons the hard way. I am grateful for the ability to hold in my hands the crumbled bits of things I once thought certain, to take a deep breath and know that in the end, all will be well. I am grateful beyond words for every single moment of pain my mind and body have experienced, because that is the price I pay for still being in this delicious world. I am grateful for the dark, lonely nights, mindful that the sun always finds its way back into the sky. I am grateful that life keeps calling to me, awakening me, and delighting me with its extravagance.

Robin Gray-Reed

 ***

Sugar took this shot in the city where she lives.

Dear Sugar,

I’m grateful that my mother taught me to cook. More specifically, I’m grateful for the memories of standing on a chair in the kitchen with her, climbing on the counters to retrieve a spice or a bowl from cabinets I couldn’t reach. Later, we tag-teamed holiday dinners, talking, dancing, and drinking. By teaching me to cook, my mom taught me to be self sufficient and resourceful. She taught me to share what I made. She taught me my grandmother’s recipes, but she also experimented and brought me along as she tried out new dishes. I’m in college now, but I still love cooking with my mom when I go home and making dinner for my friends here at school. I’ll never be a chef, but I’ll always be able to make myself something good to eat. Thanks, Mom.

Emily

 ***

Dear Sugar,

Everything I am grateful for could be described as “free” – and could also be described as Requiring My Whole Self.

I am grateful for deadlines, because they help me express myself.

I am grateful that all of us exist, that creation is continuous.

I am grateful for #Occupy-ing, because it’s complicated and challenging and nourishing, leading all of us towards re-#Inhabit-ing. I am grateful for all the new (old) ways of being human that we are continually rediscovering.

I am grateful for the opportunity to make peace (my way) with both my parents as they prepare to leave their bodies. I know from your column, Sugar, how many people don’t get this opportunity. I am grateful that I have seized it.

I am grateful for masturbation: sex with someone who totally gets me and finds me hot.

I am grateful for my new partner, designed by the Universe to drive me out of my mind (in a good way), an unexpected revelation when I’d happily settled down with myself (sexually). I am grateful that the Universe is calling on all those unusual and disparate skills that I spent years developing that I didn’t think I’d ever use again. Back into the whirlwind! – with gratitude and perhaps, this time, some grace as well.

I am grateful that I am alive and “useful” and able to express both sentiments.

I am grateful for this question, Sugar, and all the questions you’ve asked yourself and us.

Anonymous

 ***

Dear Sugar,

A week ago my mother and stepfather came to visit me in my adopted hometown, hundreds of miles from where they live. It was their first time here in years, and very special, because when my mom got sick a few years ago I honestly never thought she’d be well enough to visit me here again. They were both real tired, yet bursting with pride to see me in my very own place for the first time ever (I bought a house earlier this year).

A day or two after returning home, my mother has suddenly been diagnosed with a brain tumor larger than a golf-ball, and while she’s still thinking it over, she’s leaning toward refusing treatment–because even if they treated it the results probably wouldn’t be that great. She’ll likely be dead within some not very large number of months. We’re all terribly sad, yet when I talk with my parents, they keep coming back to:  “We’re so glad we got to see you in your new home.”

So we truly are deeply grateful. And there you have it, the sour and the sweet, taste of life.

Tree

 ***

Dear Sugar,

I’m grateful for having my heart chipped (not broken) this summer. I’m grateful to have beautiful, open-eared friends with shoulders that hold up my world when I think it’s crumbling. I’m grateful to be humbled every day by my job and how much I don’t know and how much I’m being pushed to learn and all the loving/fighting women I work with every day. I’m grateful for the mountains and the sun and hot yoga and ice cream dates and sisters who know how to make me laugh for twenty minutes straight on the phone.

Elizabeth Walsh

 ***

Dear Sugar,

I am grateful for second chances. As a nurse on a Traumatic Brain Injury unit, I bear witness to folks enduring the pain and the enlightenment of second chances every day. As a wife, a daughter, and a friend, I have received my share of second chances to create more love and more supportive (read that as healthy) relationships every day.

I am grateful that I miraculously learned that life is a series of linked recoveries. Each recovery is a second chance to create beauty and more space for love in our lives.

Thanks for being a champion of the second chance, Sugar.

Brand Lynn Jackson

 ***

Dear Sugar,

I’m thankful for my mom. I always knew how great a mom she was, but it wasn’t until my dad died 5 years ago that I realized what an amazing, strong, and vulnerable person she is. The loss of my dad has been unbearable many days, and I’d give almost anything to have him back but amidst all the hurt, I am grateful I have had the opportunity to see and know my mom in a different light than before.

Anon

 ***

Dear Sugar,

I’m grateful that my birth mother put me up for adoption. I’m grateful that my parents adopted me. I’m grateful they showed me what true love looks like, so I might have a chance of finding it someday (in fact – I have!). I’m especially grateful they showed ME the kind of love they showed each other. The amount of love, time, and energy they invested in me helped me to be a moderately successful adult, and every day I feel lucky. I could have ended up in an abusive adoptive home, like one of my childhood friends. I could have stayed with my birth mother, which likely would not have ended well. I could have ended up anywhere else but where I did, and that makes me so very thankful for my lot in life. We weren’t rich financially, but we were absolutely saturated in love. And for that I am eternally grateful.

Laura

 ***

Dear Sugar,

I am grateful for a growing sense of self-sufficiency after a lifetime of self-doubt. I am grateful for a beautiful and evolving community, despite years of insecurity and feeling on the outside after losing my mother. I am grateful for a healthy pregnancy (so far, up to this 34th week) after years of wanting a baby and waiting for the right relationship and then deciding to fuck that and do it myself. Nothing like feeling the fluid movement of this new little being in my belly, and all the unknown possibility it holds.

JB

 ***

Dear Sugar,

I am grateful for all the horrible things that have happened to me. Without it, I wouldn’t know what “family” means, how important it is. I wouldn’t have found my own self-worth. I am grateful for the people in my life who have helped me heal my corroded heart.

Even though we have only been married for two weeks, I am grateful for my husband. I wouldn’t have been ready to appreciate him if I hadn’t had my painful journey. I’m grateful for the blood, mud and tears I dragged myself through because I’m better for it and I now know what “husband” means. I know that love is a wild, delirious, tender, unyielding force. I wouldn’t have been ready to receive it without my sorrows.

I am grateful for a union of worth. I am grateful for coming through to the other side of my pain to discover a greater self than I have ever been. Each breath I take, every smile, is a victory dance on the graves of all my demons.

Sara

 ***

Dear Sugar,

This year I am very grateful for a friend that gifted me with much-needed dental work. For the first time in my adult life, I have functional teeth! I won’t be able to eat much this Thanksgiving as I am both healing and relearning how to eat, but I have a lifetime of looking normal to look forward to.

Melissa

 ***

Dear Sugar,

Earlier this year, one of my best friends died. It was terrible for all the usual reasons but also because she was one of those jewel-bright people who make you, and the world, better by proximity, loved most because she loved the most.

Shortly after her death, a friend posted a link to your column on what had been her Facebook page and was now her memorial page. I am grateful for you, so grateful, to know that the openness and love and light of my friend is out there, in other people, in you, Sugar. I can’t thank you enough for it.

Also, I’m grateful:

For my son, who taught me that the things you love the most aren’t always the things you ask for or the things you can control.

For my fiancé, who keeps teaching me that love isn’t about always getting it right.

For my friends and family, the soil that I grow in.

And for my puppy, who reminds me that laughter and naps, no matter how cliché, are still the best medicine.

Love,
Christa

***

Mr. Sugar

***

Dear Sugar,

I’m grateful I was taught to value experiences over possessions; that I’ve been loved and had my love accepted; that I was given health, an education and a plausible career; that I had the opportunity to apply myself to each of my natural limits; and that I learned to meditate, to find peace in emptiness.

GH

Dear Sugar,

I am grateful for my cat’s whiskers, right now. If it weren’t for her whiskers, I would have never been born, and neither would you. The sun would not shine, and my wife would not make me eggs in the morning. I would have never walked through Shinjuku Park on a bright autumn day. My toes would not be cold. I would never die. Neither would you. We would never again feel loss or pain.

When you ask what I am grateful for, are you asking my heart, or my mind? I’ve tried to approach this question earnestly, but every answer my mind comes up with my heart hates, and vice versa.

I know I’m wealthy. But, wealth is nothing to my heart. She knows that although it stills my fear, money makes me weak and cruel.

I feel love in my life. But, my mind knows that I will die, that this love is transitory, infinitesimal relative to the vastness of all time and space.

So can it be something so simple? It feels true.

The universe howls through her whiskers. They are everything to me.

Chris Bisignani

 ***

Dear Sugar,

There used to be a time, a long time, years, when I would wake up every day hating myself. Early in the morning I hated my body, my bed, my apartment, and as the day wore on I hated my commute, my job, my friends and, at the end of the day, myself again. It was hard to get up in the morning, hard to engage in work or play or conversation or ideas, I spent my time struggling not to cry, or giving in and crying anyway, unable to shake the feeling that something was fundamentally wrong with me, that I was not enough and would never be enough. I joked about wearing a baseball-esque t-shirt with the DSM code for depressive disorder stamped to my back in lieu of a number, but beneath the joke the fear was that my baseline was depressed, that I would never experience real happiness or joy, never have a job I felt passionate about, never have a person I felt passionate about.

And then things changed. I took control of my mood and my life in new ways, and at the same time ceded control over a lot I felt I had to control in the past. I dropped my expectations for what my life should look like, and instead showed up for what it actually was. I embraced the people around me, and met new ones. I changed my career to the one I knew in my bones I’d always wanted. I felt happy. And not just happy, I felt a whole spectrum of emotions – joy and sadness and awkwardness and confidence and giddiness and rage and bewilderment and peace. So, more than anything these days, I am grateful for the ability to change, to live one way and finally know it wasn’t working. To embrace the fact that I am a human being capable of the whole range of feelings. To change and live an entirely different way. To trust that I, that we all, deserve happiness.

C

 ***

Dear Sugar,

2011 has been my hardest year. It has been full of failure, full of realizations of my own limitations, of my own flaws, and of my own struggles. And towards the end, it has been full of slow, painful, and recursive recovery. I am grateful for the small seed of resilience that is starting to grow inside, for the small, sometimes imperceptible, part that is beginning to believe in my capacity for change. I am grateful for the times in which I do not succumb to my fears, my anxiety, and my self-doubt. I do not always remember to be grateful for this. I am grateful for the moments when I am able to accept my progress, without demanding it be faster or bigger or easier. I am grateful for my tiny revolutions.

SW

 ***

Dear Sugar,

I am grateful for the on-line community of grieving parents that formed a mini-country after their babies were stillborn or died early in life. At first, I felt exiled to their barren wintered land. Those brave, vulnerable souls saved my sanity, my humor, my baby’s memory. They saved my life. They keened with me. They expressed outrage and stomped their feet. They asked me to tell them the story of my daughter’s birth, even though they knew the ending. They looked past my daughter’s torn skin and white skin and told me she was beautiful. (She is beautiful.) They made me laugh when the last thing on earth I wanted to do was laugh. They shared their wisdom and their children and their unconditional support. They made me feel normal in a world and society unfit to deal with baby-death, dead baby grief, and the idea that healthy people have stillborn babies.

Angie

 ***

Dear Sugar,

You and I have the same Thanksgiving tradition of sharing our gratitude around the holiday table. I try to stay thankful year round, but, as with most people, it can be a challenge. Actually, it’s been a year of challenges and changes for me – being unemployed the entire year after leaving the corporate life, following my dream of becoming a REAL artist and now seeing my work being sold by a rep to local stores. I’m grateful for every moment along the way.

But I think the thing that I’m most grateful for is the trust that many women have placed in me when they need to share their stories. Because I am trained as a peer counselor working with women affected by violence, I’ve honed the skill of being a good listener. I believe that having myself survived incest, domestic violence & rape has made me a more compassionate soul and I’m constantly reminded that what most women need is a good listening to.

Being given the opportunity to sit with someone and have them share the darkest corners of their pasts, and then to hear them express THEIR gratitude that I have listened and not judged is such a place of privilege for me. Though I would not wish this kind of trauma on any living thing, I am grateful that my personal experience has allowed me to share small moments of comfort with other women, and know that I am a part in their process of healing.

Nancy Rafi

 ***

Dear Sugar,

When I was in my mid-twenties and living in San Francisco, I worked at a nonprofit that served homeless and low-income citizens in the Tenderloin district. The Tenderloin is the part of town where poverty, addiction, and mental illness are contained so that tourists can get their pictures of brightly painted Victorians without a homeless person standing in front of them. Every time I walked up Leavenworth and down Golden Gate to work, I felt like I was entering a war zone—blanketed bodies on the ground, human waste on cement, syringes, discarded bottles and clothes and belongings. Those people who weren’t on the ground were belabored: their struggle read in the staggered sway of their bodies, their disheveled hair and clothes. I had to brace myself physically before encountering this sensory experience each day.

I grew up in a loving home with wonderful parents, who raised me to know I was fortunate and that because of this it was my responsibility to help those who didn’t have as much as I did. But I also grew up sheltered. I grew up believing that I personally was protected—by my parents, by life, by God—from great suffering. When I moved to San Francisco, I experienced a crisis of faith and identity, which shook my very foundation. With this and the daily witnessing to others deep suffering, I became clinically depressed. It was difficult to get myself out of bed in the morning and when I got home, I crawled right back under the covers. I felt worthless. I felt like I was going crazy. And living paycheck to paycheck, I felt much closer to understanding how the people I worked with could end up where they were: living on the streets, penniless and estranged from others, sometimes turning to drugs and alcohol to soothe their pain. Before my depression, I had compassion, which is what made me work there in the first place, but now I had deep empathy.

Thanksgiving was always our busiest day of the year. We served over 3,000 meals of turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie in our dining room. We had an influx of volunteers and media throughout the day. My job was to work with media to get their stories and also to make sure our guests felt comfortable and respected throughout the process. On the way to work early Thanksgiving morning, I turned the corner and saw the silhouette of a man standing in front of the Catholic Church adjacent to our building. As I moved closer, I saw he was an African-American man who looked to be in his forties; however, I thought to myself that maybe he was younger and living on the streets left those hard creases on his face. Only his profile was clear to me because his head was tilted upwards toward the steeple of the church. He had blue jeans on, a sweater and no shoes. A blanket was draped over his neck and shoulders that looked like it had fallen from its original resting place on top of his head.

He must have come for help, I thought to myself. The church allowed homeless people to sleep in its pews every morning, offering a place of refuge and respite from the harsh cold and unkindness of the streets. He was standing outside the black iron gates as if he was waiting for something. I wondered in my mind what I would say to him if he asked something of me.

But as I went to pass behind him, I realized he was speaking. Since many of the people we worked with suffered from mental illness, I assumed he was muttering something to himself, scattered thoughts only he understood. But as I neared him, I could make out a few words: “And I really appreciate you doing this for me,” I heard him say. “I really appreciate __________ as well.” It took a moment for me to make the connection that this man was praying. This man, who had very little to call his own and who had likely been dealt some unforgivable blows, was saying a prayer of thanksgiving.

I turned to look at him again. His eyes were closed. He was alone with his thoughts now. I said a prayer myself, that he would have somewhere warm to sleep and some hot food to sustain him. And I said a prayer of thanksgiving for him for reminding me of how important it is to be grateful and gracious at each opportunity we have in our lives, even though this sometimes feels impossible to do.

One of the things I am grateful for is humility. Humility not as a feeling of inadequacy but a feeling that I have so much to learn and that anyone, anything, any experience can be my teacher. I needed to see that man because I was as disheveled on the inside as he appeared on the outside, because I needed to be reminded that no matter how hopeless I felt in my life, I could still find things to be grateful for. And he and so many people I met in the years I worked in the Tenderloin taught me that there is something stronger than suffering, and that is the strength and beauty of the human spirit. I saw it in moments of lucidity where someone unable of performing daily functions suddenly spoke words of deep wisdom. I saw it in the sense of community fostered by sharing a meal when one guest would offer another their dinner roll or piece of pie. I saw it in the addicts who would relapse and come back again for treatment, because they wanted a better life for themselves and were going to try, even when that seemed unattainable. I am grateful for others tenacity because in it, they reveal to me what is possible if we move forward in the direction of our desires, even if we do so blindfolded and with no stick.

I recovered from my own depression, which at certain moments seemed an infinite abyss. And strangely enough, I am grateful for that experience itself, because it taught me two seemingly contradictory things. That I am vulnerable and fragile. That I am strong. Most of all, I am grateful for small voices that speak out into nights blanketed in darkness and say: you are enough, your life is enough, this world is enough, this moment is enough.

Lisa O.

 ***

Dear Sugar,

It has been quite a turn of events, a positive twist of fate, if you will, that today, I can close my eyes, listen to my breath, hear my heart beat, and a smile can spring forth from deep down to know that no matter what happens the world will continue to unfold eternally, in all its magnificence, with or without me when such thought of the universe’s seeming indifference for our individual livelihood would plummet me further into the abyss, what had been a long time “companion.”

I am grateful for learning to see and appreciate more and more the light possible from darkness and, then, how brightly and gloriously it shines. We all have our own demons in one form or another–be they “should mantras” or traumatic incidences, little nagging ones or big haunting ones, whether self-imposed or conditioned and implanted in us when we were growing up–that scold us, berate us, put us down saying we are not good enough this way, that way, and all the ways in between. Or worst: we are not good and, in fact, very bad, cheaply made, unworthy of anyone’s time and attention. Growing up, I listened closely to my demons, big and small, feeding them with my heed and an obstinate obedience that no matter what others said otherwise of my capabilities and character, I could not believe to be true though I believe they mean it.

I am grateful for learning to see myself with a more sympathetic eye, learning that if we can learn to feed ourselves kindness and love, our demons will starve and, then, a peace is possible within that will naturally heal and open our hearts, allowing us to feel deeply and even begin to see how expansive and, I suspect, boundless the heart can be–how loving and pure it is for all things.

For these and the humbleness one finds in gratitude–I am grateful.

Love,
Humbled

 ***

Sassy Queenpin Mama

Dear Sugar,

I am grateful for the warmth of my grandmother’s scarves, yarn passed through wise fingers and weathered needles; the warmth of family that has taught me to feel the warmth of true friendship. To let your fingertips brush away my curls so your lips can meet my eyelids. To trust your path—and follow mine.

Thank you, dearest Sugar.

Erica

 ***

Dear Sugar,

I am so grateful I got laid off from my job two years ago. I was working in Communications, writing press releases, newsletters, fliers, website copy. Any creative language that I used was circled in red. “Too wordy,” “what does this mean?” I’d drive home from the office, exhausted, and attempt to sit in front of the computer again, after 8 hours of the same, and just feel numb, unable to conjure any inspiration. It was with a shock that I realized how time sped by and years accrued there, the same annual company events rolling around at an alarming pace. It was as though observing myself from the outside that I witnessed that I had somehow taken the wrong turn and was plodding along a road that diverged further and further from the one my friends had embarked on after we got our BA’s in Creative Writing. They were now teaching at universities, and some were wildly successful, with bestselling books out. I smiled at their readings and felt embarrassed by the way I pretended that their personal inscriptions to me in their novels meant I was still part of the writing community. And I was jealous. But I couldn’t imagine how I would support myself if I quit my job to write. I was alone at 36, with no savings, living in an apartment in the San Francisco Bay Area that had a hefty rent, and I felt that proverbial ship had sailed. I was too old to start over now.

So when I got a call from our director one afternoon as I sat at my desk composing a press release, and I went into his office, where my boss also sat, and they told me that the recession had forced them to eliminate a number of positions including mine, I was initially knocked off my feet and devastated. I started bawling in front of them. I cried as I packed up my little plant and stole office supplies, packing the contents of my desk into the clichéd cardboard box. Cried on my couch, where it felt strange to be sitting at noon on a weekday. I immediately started sending out my resume to PR and Marketing firms.

But then I started to think. If ever there was a chance for me to start over and do what I loved, this was it. And I was old, but thanks to being dumped by my boyfriend, I had no attachments to anything anymore. I literally had nothing left. It was a huge lesson in the power of perspective when I realized that it was my choice to see these circumstances as a loss, that I could also say I literally had nothing standing in my way. So I made a drastic move. I moved out of my house, put all my stuff in storage, and went to my parents’ house, and I put together ten applications to MFA programs all around the country. I then signed up as a volunteer at an autism treatment facility that housed me for the 6 months I waited for an answer. The range of emotions and the validation I felt when I started getting the phone calls accepting me was overwhelming.

I am now in my second year of the MFA program in Nonfiction at The University of Iowa, and every day I am so grateful that I lost my job in California. I love it. I get to geek out over writing with some incredible minds. I get to write my mind, not in service to a company’s vision, but to mine. I discovered a love of teaching. I’m starting to publish. I feel like I’ve found my way back into a community that, looking back, I didn’t have the confidence to believe I could really be a part of. Had I not been laid off, I never would have attempted it. Having nothing left meant I no longer had any excuses. What a gift.

M

 ***

Dear Sugar

Remission.

X

 ***

***

Dear Sugar,

I’m thankful I have a child who teaches me how to behave. When Katie was four I gave her a timeout after still another power struggle over bedtime. She was upset, but resigned herself to a corner for the four minutes. Forgetting it was dark in her room, I pulled the door almost closed. She cried, and said she was scared. “Be scared,” I suggested, obviously in need of a timeout myself.

This was tough on both of us. When the four minutes were up we hugged–and talked. Since I’d snapped at her, we decided I should get a timeout, too. Her eyes lit up, a little order restored to her kid universe.

“Four minutes!” she announced, with great relish. I congratulated myself on the creative parenting while she paused at the door. Her eyes were wet. “I won’t close it,” she said. “I don’t want you to be scared.”

I spent my time in the corner crying, too. It’s been twelve years–Katie’s sixteen now–and I still wince when I think of it. Thankfully I do that often, one reason I look back on her childhood with so few regrets.

Maureen Anderson

 ***

Loring

***

Dear Sugar,

I am grateful for having such an amazing dad, who unlike many other countless parents,

is actually trying to understand and accept my gay way of life and although my mother and I haven’t had the best mother/ daughter relationship, I have faith that she too will see that I’m not living a sin.

I am grateful for my friends, who are courageous and honest and loyal. I don’t think I could’ve wished for better ones. I am grateful for Her. She is the most beautiful thing that has ever happened to me and it just blows my mind that, incredibly, she feels the same way about me

I’m so thankful for art. For music. For going against the crowd. For inspiration.

For true emotion. For literature. For food. For simple things. For joy. For laughter. For happily ever afters. For love. For life.

Yenni

 ***

Dear Sugar,

For months, I’ve been writing and emailing gratitude lists with women in my yoga teacher training. Every day, we send them to one another. I read their gratitude lists, they read mine. Oftentimes we are grateful for the people in our life. Sometimes we are grateful for things concrete, like salt and vinegar chips, coffee or a mattress. Other times, we’re grateful for the abstract–hope, humility or patience.

Yogi Bhajan, who brought Kundalini Yoga to the United States, once said, “Gratitude is the open door to abundance.” I find this to be true. Once I started writing daily gratitude list and feeling more and more grateful, I saw how much I had. The abundance in my life was always there, gratitude allowed me to see it with clarity. In viewing my life with a sense of gratitude, I felt fortunate; I felt a sense of joy.

On good days, I write gratitude lists with ease. During bad days, I feel a sense of resistance. I find myself only focusing on my challenges or struggles. In other words, I just shake my head and think: But I hate everything about my life. It is on these days when writing a gratitude list, when cultivating a sense of gratitude appears most important. Gratitude brings light to darkness. Gratitude stops the bad day from becoming days from becoming a bad time, a bad season, a bad year. In short: I’m grateful to feel grateful.

Zoé

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Dear Sugar,

The thing I am most grateful for in my life is my children. My two sons and my daughter were born 16 weeks early. My daughter and one of my sons didn’t survive (the survival rate for 24 weekers is about 50%). I am still blessed to be their mom even though I am not with them now and I definitely feel blessed to have shared what little time I did with them.

One of my sons did survive, even though I was told nearly every day for the first couple of weeks that I shouldn’t expect him to make because he’d had a severe pulmonary hemorrhage and badly damaged lungs because of that. Over the course of his 5 months in the NICU, he had nearly every typical preemie complication, plus a whole lot of less typical ones.

He is tough and a fighter–even back in the NICU when he only weighed about 1 lb 5 oz. He was kept in a small flat bed with glass sides and they stretched plastic wrap across the top to help keep him warm. Most of the time at least one of his tiny feet was pushing up on that plastic wrap like he was trying to get it out of his way and that’s been his whole attitude ever since then: nothing holds him back for long.

He is a happy 14-year-old now with a good attitude and an amazing amount of resilience. He just keeps chugging forward and finding something to be enthusiastic and happy about in life, no matter what life throws at him. I truly think that something deep inside him understands that there were many times in the NICU that he almost didn’t make it and he’s determined to make the best of what he’s got. He’s quite definitely a teenage boy! Nonetheless, I am blessed, so blessed, to be his mom and every day I am thankful for him and for the NICU staff who helped make sure he survived.

I’m grateful for all my children, but I’m especially grateful for the one who reminds me every day of the joy and wonder to be found in living.

RJ

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Dear Sugar,

While I’m grateful for trees with gnarly trunks, a night sky resplendent in stars, a call from a loved one, hugs, finding out the cancer is gone and hearing laughter, I’d like to give thanks to an Asian American girl, all of about 7 years old who 22 years ago smiled brightly as she gave me a wave of thanks for allowing her family to cross a busy street. That smile so full of joy, so pure in meaning I’ve not only carried with me all these years, but refer to when I need a bit of a gratitude reminder.

Lisa Rehfuss

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Dear Sugar,

I’m thankful for laughter, the kind that makes your face hurt because it’s so true and full of joy. It’s honest. There’s a special bond I find between two people laughing, something special that stays in that moment making it beautiful and memorable. No matter what sorts of things cloud my day, a good bout of laughter clears everything and makes life good again. Happy Thanksgiving, Sugar.

Allison

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Sugar, taken at the Magnolia Bakery in NYC.

***

Dear Sugar,

When I read your missive, immediately the things that popped into my head were the usual things — I am grateful for my family, my friends, food/shelter, art, the things I’ve been given but don’t necessarily deserve, or even the things I’ve earned but still feel lucky to have, even if luck was only part of it. But then I thought about unfair wars and Occupy Wall Street and Sandusky and all the polarization and hate going around, and it seemed terribly bleak, and suddenly the overarching thing I wanted to say was, I am thankful for goodness.

Then I took issue with that. Because why should I be grateful about something that SHOULD exist? The world should be filled with goodness, and perhaps in an ideal world, we don’t get surprised when good Samaritans or generous people or local heroes warm our hearts with their stories. No, instead, we would shrug and go on, because it would be the norm. Why do we live in a world where it’s so rare that we’re grateful for a glimmer of good?

But maybe that’s the point about gratitude. The best kind of gratitude is the kind that has no basis in entitlement. I did nothing to deserve my amazing mother and so of course I’m grateful for her. I worked really hard to patch up a difficult relationship we once had, which I suppose I DID do something for, and I’m grateful for that too. And I read columns like yours, filled with generous thoughts, and commented upon by more generous open people, and I am glad it seems like there are more good people in the world than there are crummy people. I am glad these people are also the kind of people who are grateful enough for what they’ve been given to want to give back.

Because I believe in karma. Not the kind of self-absorbed karma that focuses only on your own life. But the kind of pay-it-forward karma that says good karma can be spread around, like positive energy that keeps jumping and building momentum. I think gratitude is like that too. That when you’re grateful for the good things, you want to help others have the good things too. So even if life SHOULD be filled with just good stories, in a way, it’s the gratitude that helps keep the good existing.

So what I’m grateful for is the pervasiveness of good and for the existence of gratitude itself. I’m grateful for the fact that there are enough people in the world who feel gratitude for all the things big and small that bless their lives, actively earned or not. I’m grateful that despite how ugly things get in this world, things have never gotten ugly enough to rob humanity of its spirit and its unflagging belief that we have it in us to be better.

Karissa