The “gang” less Ned, who is always the photographer.
Thankfulness. Today’s the day. I spend time every day with lists in a gratitude journal, but today is the day we get serious with those lists — the equivalent of getting out the yellow highlighter and saying it out loud. I was driving back to Boulder from Kansas City after celebrating my Mom’s 90th birthday, so had nine hours to ponder. My thankfulness list felt particularly long this year, even though it’s not been an easy year for me. As I mentally recapped my time in Kansas City with family, I wondered how many of my friends still have both of their parents? I could count them on one hand, minus the thumb and index finger. My sisters and brother and I arranged for a family dinner in the private dining room where Mom and Dad live. Mom chose a Thanksgiving dinner theme, which surprised me at first given all the choices, but when she explained why, it made sense. Our entire family has not been together for Thanksgiving since I was in college. Since my early 20’s, I always had at least one sibling living out of state and given that they always came home for Christmas, Thanksgiving became the holiday that was missed. I’m seeing the same pattern continue with 2/3 of my own children who live on the west coast. As I sat at that table celebrating Mom’s 90th, I thought about what an honor it is to be able to celebrate a parent entering their 9th decade. Four months earlier, I was in town lighting candles on a birthday cake and pouring glasses of champagne as we celebrated Dad’s 95th birthday. My family is truly blessed. Mom’s parents died in their mid 60’s and Dad’s in their late 70’s and early 80’s. They’ve created a new longevity thread in the family that I’m happy to weave my own life span into.
My knee. When thinking about it before surgery, gratitude certainly wouldn’t have been a word that I would have used. Instead, it was something I wanted to get through, passed, beyond and over with. I marked the day on the calendar when I’d be able to fly again and started making plans for when I’d get my life back, starting with my 50th class reunion at week 8. I didn’t give a thought to the lessons, the realizations and the gift that the process that began several months before the surgery, would bring. My doctor told me to get as healthy and strong as I could beforehand, and so I did. Anyone who knows me, knows that I will take a challenge to the inth degree, to prove something to myself more than anyone else. For three months, I directed my daily efforts on just that. Obsessed is a word that comes to mind, but the obsession paid off with a relatively easy and faster than expected, recovery. Since my surgery, my doctor has asked if it would be OK for him to give patients my name to call me before their upcoming knee replacement surgeries. I’m on my 3rd “patient consulting.” One more, and I’m going to have to send him a bill. Going through such a big physical and emotional process became far more than replacing an old knee with a new one. My new knee, which I named Rhoda, became the lens into parts of myself I hadn’t seen in a very long time and for some aspects, never. I was able to find my vulnerability, my strength, my compassion (for myself) and my words to document the process. My sisters came for the first week, a gift that I’ll always be grateful for, but once they left, I had a lot of time on my couch alone. My daughter would come by daily, but the nights were long, sleeping on my couch, still not ready to tackle the 18 steps to my bedroom. I would have never predicted it, but I have good memories of those evenings. I allowed myself to go deep and feel it all. I cried. I wrote. I planned and I made daily lists in my gratitude journal. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was creating my own retreat and it felt good. I also reconnected with a high school friend who was two weeks behind me on her knee replacement. It was such a gift to be able to message back and forth with someone who knew exactly what I was feeling, both physically and emotionally. And I healed. I had to cancel a volunteer trip to Tanzania and a sister trip around Colorado that had to be changed to a post op week of care for me. But I’m still calling it a journey of growth and one I’m so grateful to be on. If you saw me walk across a room or go down stairs now, you’d never know I had a knee replacement 2 1/2 months ago, but I know it because it still feels strange. Not painful, but strange.
Yesterday I joined my friends on a 4.5 mile hike that is relatively flat, although the first half of the hike is spent pacing precariously around large rocks. While walking the rocky path, being very mindful, I heard my doctor’s words “don’t fall, you’ll mess your knee up and I’ll have to go in and fix it, which you won’t like…” over and over again. In the beginning, I felt like a 90 year-old woman (no offense, Mom, maybe I should say 91…), in high heels, on ice, mindful of every step. After a short while, Dr. Bowman’s words faded and I felt like my old self again, weaving in and out of the rocks in search of the dirt. I was back. I was back with the group of friends who I first met when I came to Boulder. The friends who became my tribe and made me feel connected to the town where I had moved not knowing a soul short of my daughter, my son-in-law and my two year old grandson. The sky was Colorado blue, the weather was in the 60’s and I was weaving my way in and out of conversations with everyone in the group. I was back and although not with the strength yet to tackle hikes with much elevation, being back was enough. Thankfulness. It’s an adverb, it’s a noun and today it was a verb — walking towards the flatirons in Boulder, Colorado with a group of people who I feel connected to.
Later today, I’ll have Thanksgiving dinner with my daughter and her family. I’ll miss my west coast kids but it gives me peace to know that they also will spend some time today in gratitude for their family. As the hostess for Thanksgiving for my family of origin and my children for many years, I’d always stress the importance of the “thankfulness” part of the holiday, with the never changing menu coming in second. I tried many different approaches including 3 x 5 cards that everyone wrote what they were thankful for on the cards then the cards were placed in the center of the table and read throughout the meal. No names were on the cards so we also had to guess who wrote them. We’re family. That part was easy. In all the things that were sold, given away or thrown away before my move to Boulder, somehow those cards made the journey. I found a stack of them the other day and will wrap up my thoughts on thankfulness by sharing:
I’m thankful that we’re all sitting at this table together.
I’m thankful for pumpkin pie.
I’m thankful for Grandma and Grandpa.
I’m thankful the Chiefs are playing later today.
I’m thankful for my health and every person at this table.
I’m thankful that I don’t have to do the dishes afterwards. (I’m still puzzled by that one, because no one got a pass on clean up…)
I’m thankful that Mom cooked such a nice meal. (I moved that one to the top of the stack).