Today is Thanksgiving; the day dedicated to saying “thank you” by eating so much you have to go lie down. Every year your mom makes you read the Ann Landers “Thankful” poem. You feel like a 5th grader wearing a paper Pilgrim hat (more on that later). Then, everyone is forced to go around the table and awkwardly say what they’re thankful for. You get irrationally nervous and cannot think of a single thing that’s appropriate for Aunt Maybelle to hear. But there really is a lot to be thankful for and we rarely stop to appreciate it together, so this day is significant.
This year I discovered what gratitude really means, what it means to really give thanks. I’m sure most of us, when asked if we’re grateful, would say “Sure, yeah, totally, of course.” But, I bet all the candied yams in the world that’s not really true. I can admit that I wasn’t truly grateful until this year. I didn’t know what it really meant. It took challenging myself for 30 days to consciously work on it to finally feel gratitude. What I felt was overwhelming.
I learned that being grateful is not an action, it’s a feeling. I picture it — and actually feel it — like water ripples that I send out. I imagine the ripples reaching people around me and washing over them, letting them in on the secret.
It takes practice to really feel grateful, but I can attest that once you feel it, you will know what I’m talking about. It’s the most beautiful feeling, the fullest vibration, the most spiritual experience I’ve ever had. Feeling gratitude for me is like becoming a kid again where I experience moments of pure happiness, awe, and excitement. I always wished that as an adult I could experience what my birthday felt like as a child where my face pretty much exploded with how special and rad it all was. Gratitude lets me feel that radness again.
So today, when you’re sitting around a table with friends or family or whatever you choose to do, I encourage you to pause a moment. Take stock of your life, your health, your past, your air, your water, your everything. Try to feel it, how much you have. Do this alone so your mom doesn’t ask you to share all your thankfuls with Aunt Maybelle. Put aside the Ann Landers cheesiness of giving thanks and really give thanks. There is so much to be thankful for, so give yourself that moment and really look around.
I will end today with this gem:
That’s me being a festive little prairie girl on the left. Sugar and spice and everything nice, for sure. I believe that’s my turkey chandelier hanging above us too (dope!). Special shout-out to my siblings: tssk tssk to my brother wearing a hoodie (not a feather in sight), and to my sister clearly not into pilgrim fashion at all…
Things They Forgot to Mention:
Today is more than the feast, the tryptophan, or the football. There is so much to be grateful for, so share that today. Because giving thanks is something you give — to yourself, to those around you, and to the world.
When the plastic margarita cup hit the floor on purpose, we knew we had probably gone too far. My husband and I were in Cabo for a wedding when travel stress led to not enough fajitas which led to margarita brain which then led to my husband jumping in the pool with my camera. All of this led to the biggest and most beautiful fight we’ve ever had.
The specifics of the fight aren’t important because there really was no need for this fight. Neither of us were that angry about the camera faux pas, and it could have been resolved with one sentence from both of us. But neither of us said that sentence, we let it escalate and that is important. What happened the next morning is what is really important.
I got up at sunrise, my spinning head making sleep impossible, and went for a walk on the beach. I was spinning because I couldn’t understand why the fight happened at all. As a chronic self-explorer, I wondered what I did to make it escalate and I wondered what we could do to not fight like that again (for more on my self-exploratory ways in marriage, see Mirror, Mirror On the Wall).
I sat on the shore as the sun rose and took this picture. It reminded me of our fight: a crash against an unexpected obstacle.
I went back to our hotel room to talk to my husband, to hear what he thought about the whole ordeal. He was waiting for me with the same confused eyes I had. What happened last night? How did we go there? Why is the floor so sticky?
I almost started laughing, the fight was that unnecessary, but I didn’t. Every fight deserves respect and is something to learn from, not only about your partner but more importantly about yourself. Fights are like sudden eruptions of really honest communication; all the deep, dormant, masked emotions slowly build under pressure and spew out for attention. When the volcano explodes, it’s important to sift through the rubble.
For those in relationships — particularly the ultra-committed, in it for the long haul ones like marriages — you know fights come with the territory. They happen and they always will, no matter how compatible and in love you are. I think it would be weirder if you didn’t fight. I would wonder who’s holding what in and when is it going to end with a margarita crashing on the floor.
My mom, a very wise woman, taught me long ago that it is important to be good at fighting. What she meant was that it isn’t important to win fights, but it is important to fight well, to fight with respect, with an open mind. That is what my husband and I are learning to do. It’s immensely challenging because fighting well requires you to put your ego aside at the very moment your ego gets called out. Nothing gets resolved when your ego is in charge because the ego just wants to win. You have to demand that your ego backs down and the ego doesn’t like to do that. But that’s when you tell your ego who’s boss…
That morning, we walked on the beach for an hour and scrutinized last night’s Eyjafjallajökull — Iceland’s famous volcano that messed up plans for days, causing the need to reroute millions of passengers. This is exactly what happened to us — we erupted and had to reroute ourselves.
We identified what made it progress from an argument to a fight. There is a big difference in vocabulary and it matters. A “fight” typically means physical aggression and use of weaponry while “argument” means differing points and verbal disagreements. While the only thing that was physically hurt was a plastic cup, it was still a fight. It was a fight because we threw words at each other and the sole purpose of those words was to hurt the other. Those were our weapons. So we declared that morning that we want to argue, we don’t want to fight.
We established ground rules to help prevent our arguments from escalating to fights. Things like: no yelling, no cussing, no slamming of margarita cups. These are our triggers. We agreed to moments of silence and found we should do more moments of silence when arguing. You can hear a lot in a little silence. Silences are like pressing the pause button; you can rewind and see things from a different angle. Silence helps you cool your magma chamber, think about what s/he said, and determine what you really have to say.
That’s as far as we got that day in Cabo, but it was revolutionary. We still argue from time to time (’cause he’s a boy and I’m a girl) and I’m still learning how to not drop the F-bomb (’cause he’s an Aries and I’m an Aries). But since the margarita fight, each argument is calmer. They end easier, without escalation, and always give rise to eye-opening discussions. We want to prevent hotspots from forming and use what we’ve learned to not throw molten rock at each other. Because in the end, it’s our choice whether we fight or whether we argue.
Things They Forgot to Mention:
Nobody likes when Eyjafjallajökull spews liquid hot mmmagma. But it happens and the key is to reroute, find calmer air, and keep the margarita in the cup.
I’m pretty sure I can communicate with animals and one night while visiting my parents, I came across two cats in a kitchen stand-off. The air felt like a gas stove had been left on; anything could have ignited it. As a result, movements were slow and movements were calculated.
The two cats were seated stiffly on the counter with tails clearly fluffier than normal, signifying the presence of an imminent threat. Low growls rolled like thunderstorms between them, as if each cat was saying “Make the first move, you pussy.” I quickly calculated that it was up to me, and me alone, to mediate this cold war. I knew because of my animal communication skills that I could fix this; it was my duty. I was like the United Nations called to action. Suit me up. Sergeant. These cats were on the brink of very serious escalation and I couldn’t let them spiral to the nuclear option. Not on my watch.
Let me describe the warring parties:
Sally, aka “Ding Dong”:
Defending her home territory and weighing in at ten incredibly flabby lbs. is Sally. She is a black calico and the runt of her litter, but now she’s nine years old and completely in love with my dad. Her nickname is Ding Dong because sometimes you wonder if anyone’s home at all. Here are photos that capture Sally:
The photo on the left is typical sweet, petite Sally while the photo in the center shows Sally’s preferred sleeping position. The photo on the right with Luigi (our more regal cat) shows Sally in the background gazing with embarrassing devotion at my dad. Here is a close-up of that shot because it’s just so ridiculous:Oh Sally Ding Dong….
Sally enjoys meowing at the attic for hours until my parents take down the ladder for her to climb up. She also enjoys sitting by the faucet for hours waiting for fresh spring water to appear. Sally has never gone past the mailbox, often miscalculates jump distances, and has a muscle tone I describe as “sea cucumber-like”. Regardless of this, she is ruthless. Sally is a serial killer and leaves regurgitated evidence of her massacres as a reminder to all: this is Sally’s house.
Tibet, aka “Miss Buffet”:
The visiting invader from the Bay Area, the “de-clawed? no problem!” Tibet. She is my brother/sister-in-law’s cat and her nickname is Miss Buffet since her trips to my parents’ house inevitably involve vomit due to her inability to control her eating in the “All You Can Eat (Cat Food) Buffet”. Tibet is incapable of understanding consequences. It makes no sense how bold she is — she doesn’t have claws, yet she is utterly fearless. As a visitor, she is the territorial intruder, but she struts past Ivan, our 100-lb. German Shepherd (R.I.P. Big Boy) and Luigi, our 17-lb. cat who can only be compared to a majestic jaguar (shown irritated in the photo with Sally above). Here are photos that capture Tibet’s “whatevs” attitude:
Look how chillaxed she is. Mowin’ on a catnip “pick-me-up,” rockin’ the Santa look, and yawnin’ like you’re boring her. She embodies the self-confidence we all strive for, but it comes with a lack of social awareness where she doesn’t see she’s in danger or being rude by not following the pecking order (inadvertent shout out to The Pecking Orders!).
Back to the cold war. It was clear that both kitties were just looking to feel accepted, respected, and seen by the other… the cause of most wars, right? Sally wanted Tibet to respect her home and her status as head wife. Tibet wanted Sally to welcome her as a family member. I decided it was my job to show them this since I am way wiser. First I had to establish rapport…
Starting with Sally, I pet her small head and said nice things like she has a really great rainbow of colors and I like when she timidly touches people with her paws. To Tibet I said I admire her courage and although her meows sometimes last too long, I like that she expresses herself. Both cats relaxed, gave me their trust, and a temporary ceasefire was reached.
Now that we had a suspension of aggression, I moved the negotiations forward. I went back and forth between them, now gently telling each cat what they could do to help diffuse the situation.
“Sally, you could be a little more welcoming to Tibet. She’s our guest and yes, sometimes a little intrusive and noisy, but she’s family.”
“Tibetsy, Sally feels you don’t respect her and her home. Have a little more consideration and be more courteous to your hosts.”
The cats listened. They protested at first with sullen meows to defend their actions, but I pushed on. Soon enough, I saw Tibet steal a glance at Sally and I knew we were ready to proceed to the next phase.
I took a deep breath, sent calm waves through the kitchen, and pulled out the big guns: I pet both cats at the same time. They immediately froze as if they could feel each other through my hands. They were rigid and Siberian. I continued talking, now addressing both Sally and Tibet as if we were all in a conversation. I soothed and they slowly relaxed. The meows started again but now they were playful. The cats defrosted, their tails unfluffed, and they even made eye contact.
The final phase was risky, but I knew it would work. I poured two bowls of crunchies and set them side-by-side. Tibet and Sally didn’t even hesitate and happily ate within swatting distance of the other. The war was over! I was proud of myself, and of Sally and Tibet. I knew I had the way to find peace and was proud of my mediation. I left them so I could do research on how to join the United Nations. The world needed my skills.
An hour later, I went to the kitchen and my heart sank. There was Sally and Tibet seated in the same spots as before. Low growls, tails fluffy, back on “imminent threat” alert status. I had accomplished nothing. We did not have peace. They were still on the brink of a terrible war and there was nothing I could do.
I saw in that instant that I did them a disservice by trying to fight their war for them. I saw that this wasn’t a war at all. This was just Tibet finding her place and I couldn’t force her into a place, she had to find one on her own. She had to find it with Sally. I could tell them over and over again what they should do, but nothing would resolve this struggle until they both stood up for themselves, until they decided where they fit. Real growth happens when you fight your own battles.
The next morning I woke to find Tibet engaged in another stand-off, this time with Luigi, the black panther of all panthers. Oh Tibet, you naive daredevil you, will you ever learn? I knew that as long as I tried to save her, the answer was no. This was her conflict, not mine. Luigi was going to crush her, but that was OK. That’s what cat fights are for. I didn’t intervene this time, I left them to figure it out for themselves.
Things They Forgot to Mention:
Sometimes being saved doesn’t mean you were saved at all. Being left to fight your own battles is when you learn to save yourself. That’s when who you are really shows up.
Also, cats are the rulers of the internet. All hail to your rulers.