Turning Straw Into Gold

Life through a Buddhist lens

What I'm Really Thankful for this Thanksgiving: A Confession

From re-gifting to the common cold, a lighthearted look at gratitude.

It’s Thanksgiving in the United States. I’ve come to look upon it as a season of thanksgiving throughout the world, so I hope that, wherever you live, you enjoy this piece. This time of year, I’m genuinely thankful for the usual things: my loved ones, the food on my table, the roof over my head, but…

On the lighter side…what am I REALLY thankful for?

I’m thankful that I’m too sick to shop on Black Friday.

Standing in line in the middle of the night in a turkey-induced stupor so I can be among the first through the doors at 5 a.m.? No thanks. Trampling over others to get to stuff the very day after I’ve reflected on how thankful I am for what I already have? No thanks. And now I’ve heard that Black Friday is bleeding into Thanksgiving Day itself. A big no thanks.

I’m thankful for the gift of re-gifting.

My mother-in-law, bless her, had a habit that drove me up the wall (to use one her favorite expressions). She remembered every single gift she ever gave me. I’d watch her eyes scan the room when she’d visit: “Where’s that Lenox tea cup I gave you ten years ago?” (Hmm. How can I "break" the news to her that I broke it?) “Where’s that green sweater I knit for you?” (It never fit. I can’t remember—did I give it to someone or is it in the back of a drawer somewhere?) “Where’s the little beaded clutch I gave you in 1982?” (I haven’t the foggiest.) Once, I even caught her going through my closet—probably looking for that green sweater.

Re-gifting on "Seinfeld"
Because her behavior was such a source of stress for me, I made a vow that I would never ask after a gift I gave to my children, and I think I’ve made good on that promise. Then Seinfeld and company popularized this practice with the term “re-gifting.” Now when I give something to my family, I try to remember to add: “If this isn’t right for you, feel free to re-gift it.”

To me, re-gifting is a generosity practice times two. Not only is the giver of the gift being generous by welcoming its receiver to do whatever he or she wants to with it, but the receiver of the gift can re-gift it to someone who might like it more or who might really need it.

Recently, I was glad to see this tradition being passed onto our grandchildren. Several years ago, we gave our granddaughter, Malia, an American Girl doll. She loved it at the time, but has outgrown it. The younger sister of one of her friends fell in love with the doll, so Malia called us to ask if we’d be hurt if she gave it to this girl. Way to go Malia: a re-gifter in the making!

I’m thankful for the common cold.

Okay. I know this one sounds nutty, but stick with me. About ten years ago, I showed up for an acupuncture appointment with a cold, and the acupuncturist said to me: “This is a good sign. In Chinese medicine, we say that you have to be well enough to catch a cold.” Ever since she said that, I get hopeful whenever I have a cold. I can’t put my finger on why, but there’s some twisted logic to her thinking, even though it’s yet to work on this body.

Now, when I get a cold, along with sneezing and complaining about being “sick upon sick,” there’s always this thought in the back of my mind: “This is going to jolt my immune system back into good working order and, when I recover from the cold, I’ll recover from 12+ years of chronic illness.” Hey, a girl can hope!

I’m thankful that there’s almost always a Jane Austen or a Woody Allen movie on TV.

At the same time that I’m thankful, I hope no one thinks it would be a good idea to make a movie about a fictional meeting between the two of them. Scene One: Jane and Woody chatting in a drawing room…no, make that a psychiatrist’s office:

Jane: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. [Pride and Prejudice]

Woody: That reminds me of this guy who went to a psychiatrist and said, "Doc, my brother's crazy; he thinks he's a chicken." The doctor said, "Well, why don't you turn him in?" The guy said, "I would, but I need the eggs." That's how I feel about relationships. They’re totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, but we keep going through them because we need the eggs. [Annie Hall]

No, I’ll take my dose of Jane and my dose of Woody the way I take my pumpkin pie and ice cream: separately.

 

I’m thankful for my town’s controversial noise ordinance.

Okay, our noise ordinance went too far in 1994 when it was used to cite that woman for snoring in her own bed (true story). But I live in a university town and students like to have their parties—loud parties with loud music. Because of our noise ordinance, when I settle into bed, turn out the lights, and begin to feel my house shaking to the drum beat of the nearest party, I know it won’t be long before it will be quiet again.

As I wait for the noise to subside, I work on feeling happy for the students who are enjoying themselves—even though I know that, thanks to our noise ordinance, it won't be for too much longer.

How would I do with my "feeling happy for the students" practice if my town had no noise ordinance? I’m extra extra thankful that I don’t need to find out!

 

Happy Thanksgiving to my friends in the U.S. and greetings to my friends all over the world.

© 2013 Toni Bernhard www.tonibernhard.com

Thank you for reading my work. My most recent book is titled How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow.

I'm also the author of the award-winning How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers

Using the envelope icon, you can email this piece to others. To receive an email the next time I post, click here. I'm active on FacebookPinterest, and (to a lesser extent) Twitter.

Toni Bernhard, J.D., is a former law professor at University of California at Davis. She wrote the award-winning How to Be Sick and, recently, How to Wake Up.

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