Being Grateful

November 22nd, 2011

I was brought up on the east coast by two people who weren’t of real Yankee stock, but certainly COULD have been, to judge by how buttoned-up and unsentimental they were. They didn’t cry when we kids trotted off for our first day of kindergarten and they didn’t cry when we graduated from high school and they didn’t cry when we said, “I do.”  And they certainly didn’t sit around the Thanksgiving table blah-blahing about what they were grateful for.

I’m sure my parents were grateful they had enough to eat, a roof over their heads, and five healthy kids (the “healthy” part still astounds me.  How the hell did they manage to beat the odds with that one?  Five kids and not a single diagnosis among us?).  They just weren’t the kind of people who felt the need to sit around talking about it.

I’m definitely their child.  Oh, I’ve pushed the sentimental stuff a bit more than they ever would have.  I cried so hard at my son’s high school graduation I almost ruptured something and then I cried even harder when we said goodbye to him on his first day of college, and I’m in tears almost daily thinking about how my second oldest son will also be leaving come the fall.   And yet . . .  I still find myself slightly turned-off by people’s public declarations of gratitude on Facebook.

This seems to be a big thing this year: you start listing all the stuff you’re grateful for in status after status, and you do it without a trace of irony or a punchline.

Now, first of all, I don’t do anything without a trace of irony and/or a punchline, up to and including talking to my kids about sex and to my father about death.  So that’s a problem for me right there.  Even more importantly, I can’t shake the feeling that expressing gratitude for the good things that life has given you is a private matter, like flossing your teeth or doing those doggy-at-the-hydrant leglifts–worthwhile activities, both of them, but not anything you need to do in public.  It’s probably my “keep it to yourself” upbringing, but public expressions of gratitude feel kind of like bragging to me.

Private ones are nice though.  Every TDay, we throw a tablecloth over a coffee table and toss a bunch of Sharpies on top.  Over the course of the day, family and guests drift over and write a little note (if they want to) about what they feel especially grateful for that year.  And sometimes at the dinner table, we go around and say what we’re grateful for.  Irony and punchlines are allowed, of course.

And I’m all in favor of telling someone you love that you’re grateful he or she’s around.  In fact, I encourage anyone reading this to do exactly that: grab a person you’re pretty fond of and let him know that YOU know that your life would suck without him (to paraphrase poet laureate Kelly Clarkson).

But resist the urge to go tweet about it afterwards.