Yup, it’s Thanksgiving, and I’m Giving Thanks

We became Thanksgiving nomads shortly after my brother died. For a year or two my sister-in-law continued to gather everyone for the holiday. Then there was a while when we’d go to my parents in Massachusetts and I’d take care of everything there. That stopped when my parents decided to begin their annual snowbird flight to Sanibel before the end of November. So somehow we joined the gang at our friends Marjorie and Doug’s–their parents, in-laws, cousins, cousins’ kids and any strays without a Thanksgiving to attend, because that’s the way Marjorie and Doug are. Generous. Everyone makes something: Marjorie’s cousins Susan and Larry make this scrumptious sweet potato dish that has evolved over the years–the recipe calls for condensed milk. I think they now use skim. Yummy anyway. I make cranberry sauce (in the pot in the photo above) and a scrumptious pumpkin chocolate chip cake. Ask me and I’ll give you the recipe.

The Thanksgiving Parade was baked into the tradition during the early years, when the kids were young. We live right off the parade route, and Howard and Doug would set off early to secure a spot on the sidewalk curb. A couple of hours later I’d join them with the well-layered children, blankets, a large thermos of hot chocolate, and a bag of homemade blond brownies. (One year it snowed and we managed to find seats in the grandstand. Luckily during the parade years it never poured.) Then we’d go home, change our clothes, and walk down the block to Marjorie and Doug’s. I can mark some of the years with images of Ariel’s winter dress-up coats: year after year of navy blue or green wool with velvet collars and cuffs. The dads would then take the kids to Riverside park for some football (the girls in their maryjanes and white tights, yes, crazy but true) while everyone else prepared the feast.

From the beginning Marjorie instituted a pre-meal ritual where we’d go around the table and everyone would say what he or she was grateful for. The kids hated this. Whether there were six or ten young ones or teens, they’d all say, one after another, in a sing-song voice, “I’m grateful for family and friends.” For a couple of years they were banned from doing this. Now when Michael, 28, says he’s grateful for his sister, Dana, 32, we all go, “awwww.”

I have always dreaded this saying-what-you’re-grateful thing too. For several years I was caring for my mentally and physically deteriorating mother. Yes, I always knew I’m so lucky to have what I have, but that fact of my life kind of soured the picture when I had to put things into words. Likewise, this year I really haven’t been looking forward to it: the kids remain unemployed. The economy is bad. I worry about what will happen when the republicans take over in January 2013.

Then a couple of days ago Howard showed me an article in the New York Times about being grateful. Actually, everyone was linking to it on Twitter and Facebook (http://nyti.ms/ruQIQN). According to the research John Tierney gathered, being grateful for things and expressing our gratitude makes us feel better. Tierney writes that as Robert A. Emmons, of the University of California, Davis, advises in his book Thanks, “If you want to sleep more soundly, count blessings, not sheep.” So here’s me doing some gratitude counting. I go from the sublime to the seemingly trivial. But nothing here is small in my life. And, of course, the list is incomplete. The more I think about it, the more I have to be thankful for.

  1. I am thankful for my family. I have a wonderful, smart husband who loves us all. My kids may be unemployed, and this does stress us all, but I know we’ll look back on this as just an episode in our lives. They’ll get jobs. That dog in the photo above: That’s Landry, my daughter’s “rescue” dog. Off of Craig’s List. Yes, I had a fit. But he is the best, sweetest pup. How lucky he was that they found him. How lucky I am to have him at my feet as a write.
  2. I am thankful for my friends. The people I know astound me (a natural cynic) with their generosity of heart and spirit. They make my world.
  3. I am thankful for my parents. My father’s been dead over a decade, my mother for nearly five years, but every day I benefit from the blessing of being their child: my intelligence, my talent, my values, what I am deep inside–I owe that to them.
  4. I am thankful for social media. Yes, this may seem a little trivial, but social media has opened for me a whole new life, a new platform. Through Twitter I have made astonishing connections and met people who devote their lives to promoting social good, people I admire.
  5. I am thankful for my piano. Yes, I am. Music enriches my life; my piano Mason & Hamlin concert grand, dating from 1904,  is special.
  6. I am grateful for WQXR and WMHT radio. When I think about how these stations improve the quality of my life . . . .
  7. I am thankful to the American Ballet Theatre. The beauty of movement and music coupled–I love ballet the most of all the arts.
  8. I am thankful to live in New York City. Truly this is the best place in the world. I feel so privileged to be a half block from Central Park, resplendent in all seasons. Lincoln Center is a walk away–and there is where I go the hear the New York Philharmonic, an organization that also brings me such joy.
  9. I am thankful to the authors of the wonderful books I have read this year. The list is long, but thanks guys.
  10. I am thankful for my country house. This gift from my dad keeps on giving every time I drive up the driveway and see the red brick chimney reach into the sky, the blue house surrounded by fields and trees. Even you deer out there that eat my plants, I guess I’m kind of grateful to you as well. You are part of the whole nature thing.

What are you grateful for? From the important to the silly, you probably have a list like mine. I’d love for you to leave comments below, but finding me on Twitter at @wordwhacker or on FB at either Facebook.com/Linda.Bernstein or Facebook.com/LindaBernsteinPhD. I’m even on Google Plus. Circle me.

My 9/12 Blog

Everyone except me did 9/11 blogs yesterday. A ten year anniversary of a day that truly changed life in NYC and the USA (hello department of Homeland Security and TSA pat-downs) gave a lot of people something to say. Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor at the CUNY Graduate Center and media expert (twitter: @JeffJarvis), spent the day tweeting out memory after memory of all that had happened to him on 9/11 when he went to a meeting at downtown just about the time the planes hit the towers. Some people got annoyed he was tweeting a lot. But I found each tweet fascinating, and his story was more grueling than mine.

Ten years and one day ago I was puttering around, about to sit down at my computer to write something or other, when I heard neighbors yelling on the street about a plane hitting the World Trade Center and about terrorists. I turned on the television just as the second plane hit. It took the next hour for TV news to become focused on what was going on. By then the towers were about to collapse, a plane had gone down in Shanksville, PA, and another one had crashed into the Pentagon. My landline wouldn’t work: the main Verizon facilities were at the WTC and had been knocked out. My son was safe at college (though calling every few minutes to check on the safety of people we knew downtown); my husband was safe at the college where he teaches in Queens. My daughter was in high school up in the Bronx, which the FBI and NYC police closed off from Manhattan as soon as security measures began being implemented. (A recent article in the New York Times underscores how no one knew what was going on. The Airforce did not scramble until all the planes had hit, and at that point, our jets were flying without weapons. http://nyti.ms/qfKSwp.) The phone at her school was busy, busy, busy. Her Verizon cell did not work. At that point I had AT&T, so mine did. And eventually I got through to one of her friends with an AT&T phone. This was my drama: not knowing if my 15-year-old would be able to get home.

Meanwhile, I went outside into that beautiful day everyone remembers with its clear, remarkably blue sky. I offered my AT&T phone to passersby so they could make calls to loved ones. (And AT&T actually gave me all the minutes for that day for free.) Eventually we learned that doctors could get over the bridges. One of her friend’s mom’s drove up to the school with her MD plates and packed her car with over a dozen kids. Bewildered, they continued to hang out at each other’s apartments for the rest of the evening. Mayor Guiliani, in perhaps the most human moment he ever had, told us that the loss was going to be more than we could bear.

I went to the computer this morning to find a tweet from the wise and clever Amy Vernon (@AmyVernon, aka The Bacon Queen). It’s September 12th, she said. We got through that one.

And she was right in so many ways–the chance of an “anniversary” attack, the kind of paranoia that led to brown-skinned people being pulled off planes. (If you want to get riled up, read this: Some real Shock and Awe: Racially profiled and cuffed in Detroit | Stories from the Heartland http://bit.ly/pavTUM.) And all the sentimentality–though I must say that I was riveted by the article in Esquire about “The Falling Man” picture. (“The Falling Man – Tom Junod – 9/11 Suicide Photograph” – Esquire http://bit.ly/ncpNr1. Read the links after the article too.) Yesterday evening we took a walk out after dinner to see the “Memorial Lights” that fill the sky. Only it was too overcast. Looking downtown we could see that the sky was more aglow than usual, but there were no twin light towers.

If you had asked me about the Twin Towers on any day before 9/11/01, I probably would have snidely said, “bad architecture.” Sure, Windows on the World, had a spectacular view, but the food wasn’t even all that good. No one went to the World Trade Center except to work. Tens of thousands of people did that, every day.

I’m a runner, and my favorite route goes around the reservoir in Central Park. It used to be that from the north end of the loop one could see those ugly towers sticking up into the skyline. The view has changed–the photo at the top of this post shows what I see when I run. It’s jarring each time I jog around that stretch. Something is still missing. Like Amy, I’m glad it’s September 12th. But I think I wish even more it were still September 10, 2001, that the Towers still stood, that this act of terrorism had never happened, that more than 3000 people hadn’t died, that we hadn’t gotten into a couple of long, arduous wars because of our fears and the hatred we harbor toward others, hatred they happily return. I don’t mind that 10 years have passed. I, and millions like me, just wish it had all never happened.

So, in your comments let me know:

1.What’s changed for you in this decade? Yeah, we’re ten years older, but what else?

2. Did 9/11 affect Baby Boomers as a group? If so, how?

3. Will we ever be able to put 9/11 aside? How will this happen? What would it mean?

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