“I am grateful for what I am and have.
My thanksgiving is perpetual.
It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing
definite – only a sense of existence.”
Henry David Thoreau, In a letter to Harrison Gray Otis Blake (December 6, 1856)
My subscription to Real Simple Magazine expires next month and bored by road tests of facial cleansers, I will not renew. At least, that was my intention until I discovered this quote on page six of November’s edition.
Thoreau wanted to get the most from life by determining what was really important, and he did that by removing himself somewhat from the normal life of Concord, Massachusetts in the 1840’s.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Thoreau liked it so much that he lived in his cabin for more than two years and states in his letter to his good friend, Blake, that he is perpetually thankful for who he is and what he has.
Everlasting thankfulness seems to me like a kind of glory state I should consider attaining tomorrow after the last bit of stuffing has been scraped from my aunt’s Corning Ware baking dish. I conclude quickly, it will never happen.
While there are moments I am thankful for who I am and what I have, it never lasts. There are days when I struggle to find my best self and soon I will covet at least fifty percent of everything in this year’s Neiman’s Christmas Book. How can my thanksgiving for “who I am and what I have” thrive with all this going on?
However, after much thought I now know what can spur a genuinely everlastingly thanksgiving in me – air. Most important, that I breathe it.
To me the more resplendent message in Thoreau’s correspondence is that existence should be constantly thanked. To exist means you take in a breath, exhale, and hope for another. Repeat, repeat, repeat. The moment between two breaths is your life.
When the doctor says, ‘take a breath” before he moves that stethoscope around your back, you pay attention to that breath. Otherwise, you don’t.
Esther Perel, author, family and sex therapist and famous for her TED talk on The Secret to Desire in a Long Term Relationship, is fast becoming one of the best thinkers in the healthy living space today. In a recent interview in The Sun Magazine she is clear that while sex in old age may not sizzle in the same way when we were young, satisfaction with life should. “But,” she states, “people are entering my office at sixty-five asking, ‘Is this it?'”
Pointless worries, soul-depleting obligations, non-stop child-rearing, a boring career, a listless marriage, killer working hours – all create patterns in our lifetimes that we feel cannot be changed.
But we are wrong. Every pattern of one’s life can be changed.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Find what your life should be and create it with as much clarity as you can. Find your work-life groove. Do that which glitters and seems unattainable. The greatest triumph after breathing is to stick to what you must do and what you want for yourself.
On this Thanksgiving eve Thoreau’s quote has the approximate effect of a 2×4 thwacking me between the eyes.
Simply being alive is enough to inspire gratefulness and for the moment, we all have that.
I am alive. I am forever thankful.