"If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough."
I spent several Saturdays ago in a seven-hour memoir writing workshop in a high school near Union Square. When I told Dennis how pumped I was, he replied, “That sounds horrible.”
To each his own.
I did feel a bit odd taking a memoir class at the ripe age of 33. But, as one classmate put it, “I want to make sure that someone hears my story.”
Sharing story is so, so important. There is nothing more comforting and affirming that sharing something stupid that you did and the shock when someone you consider so put together in life replies, “Oh man, I know. I do that all the time.”
Sharing story removes shame by exposing those under layers of the human onion that only see light if we feel safe enough to expose them.
Sharing story reminds you that, in the end, we’re all trying to figure it out, for the rest of our lives.
Thanksgiving is upon us, as evidenced by the annual white lights newly draped across our block. Dennis and I talked about family traditions the other night and what we might like for our future family. I basically said, “What if we didn’t make 27 dishes and kept it super simple?” He replied, “But that’s the fun of it! A table stuffed with all kinds of food, and you pass it all around…”
I just don’t get it. Call me crazy, but to me, the tradition means more if your bounty is somewhat more “humble”, and you just enjoy being together. Then again, many people have more stressful family situations for Thanksgiving, so, in that case, the abundant food and drink serves as the perfect remedy for awkward conversations. I get that: Emotional eating at its finest.
Dennis and I agreed, for now, on: Turkey, fish, brussels sprouts, cranberry relish, mashed sweet potatoes – and letting our future child/ren choose a special dish of their choice. That’s fun, right? New traditions! After all, I have to carry on the sappy Wolff family “Norman Rockwell” traditions somehow.
For me, Thanksgiving is a perfect opportunity to practice the gratitude that many of us strive for every day, but don’t always achieve. It's the perfect opportunity to practice your personal form of prayer amidst the complicated jumble of celebration, memories, and awkward moments. (It also means the ushering in of Christmas, and I'm Team Christmas all the way.)
But back to this post and that writing class. I wanted to share a few pieces from that class here, because, in one of those great moments when Murphy doesn’t pee all over you, I noticed that, looking at these two pieces, they both tie back to gratitude.
We had about ten minutes to write each prompt, and here’s what happened, unedited:
Prompt #1: A turning point in my life
I walked into the hospital room, and it was like walking into that scene in Lady and the Tramp when the angelically beautiful new mother is singing softly to her newborn, “La la loo, la la loo, oh my little star-sweeper..” I was Lady, trying desperately, vibrating through my toes, to see into the bassinet. Or, you know, the much less romantic hospital crib thing. My mother lying on the bed, somehow looking beautiful and serene to my 7-yr-old eyes – though, in hindsight, totally in the stupor that follows delivering an almost 10-pound behemoth of a baby (thanks, Wolff family, for that in my future).
I was afraid to enter the sacred space, bathed in a soft yellow glow (probably not in reality, but humor me – you know you’ve worn some pretty strong rose-colored glasses yourself). Yet I could not stand the possibility of waiting one second longer to hold her, my own real, live doll, in my arms and kiss her forehead and say, “I’m your big sister.”
She completed our little family.
And I was going to love her more than any little sister had ever been loved.
I don’t remember the words spoken, or anything other than holding her. I don’t remember so many things about this memory. But I remember not feeling anything other than the purest joy imaginable. And I remember just knowing that life just got better somehow.
Prompt #2: Music that accompanied an important moment in my life/a song that served as a companion
Titanium. I am titanium.
Such a cliched, pop song that I will forever associate with the smell of eucalyptus towels, the “Hell yeah!” bang of heavy weights on black rubber floors, and the subtle shifts in posture that carried me past those few hunks of genetic genius that the Gods of the Gym sprinkled throughout the sweaty sea purely for my benefit.
But there it was, when I needed it most. Titanium.
I am titanium. A foot of stitches, a nerve-torn arm with a lifeless hand, and a titanium flute trying to hold it all together.
I thought I had about an 80% chance of full recovery, which, in my mind, was just a small bump in the road as I found my way back to my full self. Apparently, the odds were much, much lower than that.
It must have been that song, Titanium, that carried me through workout after workout, step by step, day by day, mile by mile. From bands to bars, from walks to sprints, sweating and pushing and rejoicing in small victories.
Like the day I buttoned my pants. All. By. Myself.
And the day I made a thumbs up sign for the first time in months. (My aunt cried a little bit. It was beyond thrilling.)
Nerve damage is no joke, my friends. But shoot me down, 'cause I won’t fall.
I just won’t arm wrestle again. Luckily, it wasn’t a habit I had to break – just a one shot “Whoops, never again!” type of situation.
From a cocktail of post-surgery drugs that left me falling asleep with a sandwich in my mouth and telling the nurses to “pour me over ice, baby!” to a wicked cool scar with a pretty good story.
Prayer seems to mean something different to everyone. One thing on my "to do" list is to remember to say grace before meals, as we still do in the Wolff house to this day. I keep forgetting. Is that terrible? It feels like it is...
"Remember to practice gratitude every day! CHECK!"
We do the best we can. I still practice every day.
Happy Thanksgiving ~ May your plates be bountiful, your cups be full, and your dinners be filled with entertaining stories.
As always, thanks for reading mine. I’m always here to listen to yours.