As I anticipate the hectic over-commercialized holiday season, I start to think about how to nurture thankful hearts in my household. After every snuggle pet magic pen gadget commercial I hear this plea, “I really want that, Mommy! Really bad! Can I have it? Pleeeeease?”
It’s not that it’s bad to want things, but it makes me nervous to see my kids salivate at every product that flashes before their impressionable eyes. I don’t like the idea of placing so much emphasis on having more and more and more stuff. I don’t want them to grow up thinking that their things are most important in their lives. That stuff equals happiness. Because quite simply, it doesn’t. Of course, we are still thankful for our things. Our homes, our clothing, our iPhones, our cars, our fancy T.V.’s, our crockpots, our warm beds. But these things are just material goods. I want my kids to know that our thankful hearts can dig far below the surface to uncover some of life’s greatest treasures.
I’ve never been much of a gardener, but Jamie is. Each year as winter is ending, he pulls out all his seeds and makes a plan for what he will grow the coming year. As spring approaches, he puts rich soil into pots and places a tiny seed therein. With sunlight and water, roots take hold in the soil and a seedling sprouts. With more care, the seedling grows taller, stronger, until finally, it can be planted into the waiting spring earth. With more careful attention, the plant will produce beautiful tomatoes that will make chili, salsa and bruschetta in the coming months. The harvest is well worth his time and effort.
I think that growing thankful hearts in our children is much the same. It takes time, effort, and energy. And all along the way, we are hopeful that one day, we’ll see a bountiful harvest. That they will experience the inherent glow of gratitude. Except with kids, there is no prescribed method to accomplish this task. It’s not a very precise or predictable venture. So we just do the very best we can and we hope for the best.
Last year, we started a little tradition. It is not an idea born in my mind, but one I borrowed from a friend. And now it has taken root in our household too. The boys helped me create a large tree from construction paper. We taped it up on the playroom wall and each day of November, we take some time to talk about our thankful hearts. I cut a few yellow, red, and orange leaves out each day, and record what our family is thankful for onto several leaves. Then we tape the leaves onto the tree and at the end of the month, have a radiant fall tree, filled with leaves of thanks.
This simple daily ritual got me thinking about what I am most thankful for. Our blessings are a great many. My mind wandered through the people in my life, the places my eyes have looked upon, my understanding of God, savory foods I eat, the endless beauty of the earth, the contents of my heart, life itself. I thought about how connected I feel to all these complex entities and I realized that the answer is more simple than not. What makes my heart full?
It is connection.
Over the course of our lifetimes, we connect with each other, with ourselves, with God, with Mother Earth, with the food that nourishes our bodies, with places, and with things. We all long for connection. We each require various levels of connectedness and so we seek it out in different capacities and through different mediums, but we all seek it. I think it serves as the very foundation of humanity. These connections make the heavy loads we bare, lighter. They help us find meaning in the beauty and in the chaos of life. They unite us and foster love and kindness. Connection is the well that we all drink from.
As we gather together at tables near and far this Thanksgiving, let us connect. Let us carry our hearts in our hands and come together to know each other better. Let us be bridge builders. Let us put aside all of our differences in opinion, in preference, in politics, in religion, in the causes we support, and in the teams we cheer for. Let us recognize that there are a great many truths circulating this magnificent world. We each have our own experiences and perspective, which have shaped the truth we know. Other people do too, and so, their truths may be different. Let us look for the good in each other. Let us embrace. Let us come together and connect. Then, let us wake up and do it all again the very next day. And the day after that. And the day after that.
I recently stumbled upon a children’s book based off of a poem by Rumi called “Elephant in the Dark.” In it, a merchant brings a creature home one night and the village people are curious about the beast. They want to see it and so they each take turns going into the dark barn to find out what kind of animal it is. One feels the nose, and decides it is like a snake. One feels a leg and decides it is like a tree trunk. One feels a tusk and decides it is sharp like a plow. They each walk away with a different truth based on their experience. By putting each truth together they can see the big picture – the animal is an elephant. But alone, they only know a part of the truth and they accomplish little in their arguments about who is correct.
I’m in love with this story. Wouldn’t it be amazing to weave our truths together to see the bigger picture? What if we could recognize that we each hold a valuable piece of the puzzle, a part of truth, and open our hearts toward connection instead of separtion?
We are still working at growing thankful hearts at our house. We still put leaves on our tree each day. The leaves on our tree are speaking. They say our hearts are thankful for laughter, my friends at school, Legos, our chickens, my Jackie, my family, outside, yoga, coffee, friendship, and all my Hot Wheel cars. I hope that we are sowing the seeds that grow thankful hearts.
I hope as days pass, my boys learn the beauty of connection. I hope they understand that we all hold a piece of the truth. I hope they learn that time is the ultimate currency. To spend it well. That the people in their lives deserve the greatest attention. That while we are thankful for physical stuff, the stuff in our hearts is so much more important. All the intangible stuff – laughter, hope, love, courage, feelings, ideas, memories, beliefs, the mind’s ability to think. All of this allows us to connect with all that is living, and all that is not.
It’s not too early, or too late, to start thinking about the seeds you’ll sow. Or the seeds you’ll help your children start to grow. What will you cultivate in your thankful heart this year?