Gratitude as Greeting
We did our cleaning days ago. Stocked up on groceries yesterday and began cooking last night. Found the leaves for the dining room table, which we’ve not needed since pre-pandemic times. But what if the real preparation for our Thanksgiving gathering might be more related to the threshold than the table? How do I prepare the threshold – to my home and to my heart – to be truly welcoming to those I encounter on it?
In these COVID days, this might mean agreements we make (about testing or masking or other precautions) before we gather to protect the well-being of the most vulnerable among us. Or it might mean pausing, in any encounter, to ask if hugs are welcome. It might also involve implicit or explicit understandings about what we will leave behind in our conversations – perhaps politics or religion, judgments, or the need to be right; and what we ask of one another – maybe openness, kindness, acceptance, forgiveness. Depending on the nature of the gathering, these might be needed or not.
I’m thinking about bell hooks and her observation that “Communities of care are sustained by rituals of regard.” Regard, meaning attention or concern for someone or something. Regard, an expression of connection, esteem, or affection. “Best regards,” that greeting often used in closing a missive with good wishes.
Letting go of its false and misleading origin story, perhaps the Thanksgiving holiday practiced by many in the United States today can be understood as a “ritual of regard” – a first step in creating communities of care – a gathering of people sharing food and fellowship, conversation and company, all in the name of gratitude. For isn’t gratitude a form of regard? An invitation into relationship not dependent on agreement but one that does require attention, connection, appreciation, and an openness to the possibility of reciprocity. Whether it’s large or small, with a guest list carefully chosen to avoid conflict or one compiled over time and through bloodlines, possibly across many differences, Thanksgiving invites us to join with others on the common ground of gratitude.
What if we brought that common ground to all our daily encounters? To the bus driver and the teller, to the client and the coworker, to the neighbor and the nemesis, to the trees and the sky. To the snow and the late-blooming lily frozen within it. To the open field and the path beaten through it. I tried this yesterday, stepping out of my house, heart still bruised from the violence in the news, and instead of turning within for refuge, I looked up and out. Let my eyes meet another’s. Let my head nod in greeting. Let my gesture say welcome. To those I knew and those I didn’t. To the lake beginning to freeze and the trumpeter swans resting there in pairs before continuing their migration. And to the familiar flock of house sparrows, as always, rising to welcome me home when I opened the gate.
I practiced gratitude all along my daily walk as an act of appreciative greeting, as if each encounter beckoned my attention to the threshold of my heart, asking how might I hold the door open long enough to offer another my regards? And I returned home buoyed by the abundance of connections I’d experienced.
For bell hooks, the wonder evoked by rituals of regard, new and old alike, makes way for gratitude that, in turn, lays the groundwork for love.
As I finish my preparations for this year’s Thanksgiving, I am wondering now: how am I preparing to greet each being I meet, at my door or my table, online or on the street, with wonder and gratitude, every day opening the ground where love can grow?
In that spirit I offer this Thanksgiving prayer:
To the earth
in its round and bountiful beauty,
and the food grown from it,
and the gravity that holds me to it,
I nod in a greeting of gratitude.
To the water
that makes life possible
and its power to cut through stone,
to cleanse, to carry, to refresh, to revive,
I offer a greeting of thanks.
Lifting my eyes to the sky —
host of the stars
and their ancient light,
every inhale is my greeting,
every exhale names my thanks.
To all sharing this day with me,
near and far, large and small,
each woven into this miraculous web of being,
I open my heart in wonder,
leaning into a possible love.
With gratitude for your attention on the threshold of this day. For information about next Thursday’s online gathering on “Cultivating Wonder in the Midst of Change” please subscribe to “Threshold Times.”