Thanksgiving once loomed very low on my favorite holiday list. I’m not partial to yams or gravy and (as embarrassing as it is to admit) I wasn’t always very grateful. Growing up, the women in our family rushed around fretting over trimmings while barking at my cousins and me for cluttering the kitchen. Everyone on edge—as the turkey took its time.
The stress boiled over the year my dad’s cousin dropped the stuffing. The entire platter. SPLATT. We didn’t exile him from the table but I’m sure he was grateful to leave after all the dirty looks. Compare this experience to Christmas morning: my family lounging around in pajamas, indulging on (almost impossible to ruin) cinnamon rolls and opening gifts without a care in the world.
In my household gratitude can’t wait for the pomp, circumstance AND STRESS of Thanksgiving Day. I’m harvesting in simple ways and trying to be grateful for moments and people rather than things. That’s how I hustle all day, er day (as the saying goes.) It’s definitely a work in progress.
I learned so much about gratitude during my time as reporter. I spent valuable time away on holidays forcing me to miss the mayhem at home and giving me a chance to bake my own dry turkey. Thankfully, I kept a fire extinguisher handy when the grease and gratitude spilled over. I discovered the importance of gratitude in my own life from the people I met and the stories I told. People who endured great loss. As a new mom, I want my family to enjoy time well spent together every day. This year we ORDERED our meal. No cooking, no stressing and no fire extinguishers needed. I’m praying for all to enjoy a safe, blessed and carefree Thanksgiving.
Here is an excerpt from Reporting Live from Studio B:
We pulled up to Hearst Castle in our gold minivan. It was 1990-something and I couldn’t wait to walk the grounds and see all the belongings of the notorious hoarder and newspaperman, William Randolph Hearst. I’d read a biography about the mogul detailing his compulsion for things. According to the book (sorry, can’t remember the author), he tried to fill a lonely void created in childhood. As a teenager, I understood the power of things. I just wanted and needed a Tiffany & Co. bracelet and Dooney & Burke purse to be cool, of course. I wasn’t cool. I never got either.
My mother, brothers, and some childhood friends and I marched room to room taking in the light. Despite the abundance of regal things I found a dearth of life. Sadness sat like a stone in the colossal California mansion’s walls. Although, Hearst’s things outlived him, I imagine flood, fire, or earthquake shall one day swallow up that old treasure chest. In this world, everything must go. Nothing lasts forever.
I’ve lost many things in my life. The waters of the Gulf of Mexico swiped a pair of sunglasses four summers ago. I lost an oval shaped opal ring my abuela gave me. I keep wishing one day I’ll find it. Don’t get me started on cell phones. I’ve lost and dropped my fair share, fishing one out of the toilet more than once. In 2013, while pregnant with Brandon, I washed the sheets right along with my brand new HTC phone. The most disappointing part was losing my contacts. I moved to San Antonio only a few weeks prior to the unintentional phone baptism. I couldn’t text all the friends I was thinking about. It cut me off from a world I once knew. My contact list still hasn’t recovered. Perhaps, the universe was telling me to let go. I wasn’t ready.
All the gurus at Harpo Studios, all the monks in Tibet and even Christy Turlington preach some version of: “it’s not the things but the attachment to things that causes suffering.” (Turlington, 2002) I’ve stood with many people of all different ethnicities and ages in a wilderness of loss—homes burned, flooded or torn down by winds. I’ve walked blackened hallways, ashes at my feet. I’ve gazed upon withered ceiling fan blades sagging like a captive killer whale’s fin. I’ve stood in a kitchen with floodwaters up to my ankles. I’ll forever remember the terrifying smell of burned plastic. Most people cry and tremble in disbelief. Surprisingly, many disaster victims welcomed me into their world. I arrived to document, I often felt like I was there to console instead. Some people chuckle at the randomness of what’s left behind after a disaster.
I keep an aluminum trinket destroyed during a 75-thousand-acre grassfire in New Mexico. A family returned from a trip to find nearly everything gone. They gave me the melted metal as a reminder of the devastation. I sometimes hold this token of trouble in order to remember the world is always in flux. Nothing is permanent.
Right now, my husband and I are fixing up our first home. I won’t be able to fill it with world-class treasures like old Billy Hearst, but everything inside will be ours. That’s scary. I know what can go wrong. I know fire, floods and storms happen. I know they can happen to us. The reporter in me wants all new smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and a home warranty. I really want security and a guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen. I could certainly allow myself to overdose on anxiety. Instead, I try to focus on the flurry of gratitude I witnessed after every disaster I ever covered. Families just like mine lost their homes but didn’t lose their faith.
The kinds of despair I’ve witnessed isn’t easily forgotten–but neither is the resiliency many families display in the face of loss. I felt privileged to walk in the wake of such heartbreak, because hope and gratitude rush in to fill the empty space. People who lose everything are almost always in a daze. They’re grateful to be alive. Grateful their children are alive. They’re grateful for their families. The shock settles and gratitude permeates. The loss hurts just a little less because of it. Sometimes, families don’t survive. Every survival story warrants gratitude.
I remember one particular family in South Texas. A grandmother was raising her grandchildren, and one of the little boys was about turn 5 (as I recall). They were living in one of the poorest counties in the United States and their home burned down. The boy’s family couldn’t afford to rebuild. They were living on what was left of the porch when the photographer and I pulled up. Viewers saw the story and donated money for a hotel stay. I visited the hotel and found the little boy gazing upon more birthday cakes than he could eat and more toys than he could play with. He was so excited. I was, too. Only pure gratitude can fill this space.
Even after all I know and all I’ve seen, I can’t always shake my attachments to things or to the past. Take that old gold minivan for example. I hated it when my parents bought it. Then, I saw it parked outside of my parent’s house during a nostalgic Google maps search in a sleepy newsroom a few years ago. It was a lonely Saturday morning inquiry. I was homesick and wanted to hop a flight. Home. The search took me back and greeted me with a memory. Years later, I checked again and the van was gone. How fitting. Goodbye gold van. Goodbye ‘90s. Goodbye childhood. In time, everything must go. The only guarantee: gratitude can pull me through whatever comes my way.