The last days of any year are traditionally a time of reflection, and so the 10 Things of Thankful blog hop is the 12 Things of Thankful review.
For me, this year is overshadowed by the death of my deeply loved father and wonderful aunt, so writing this refection was never going to be easy. I didn’t even get to the end of the first sentence without some tears. I will keep going, though because, even when someone you love dies, life goes on. And as long as we have life, there is gratitude. In a way gratitude isn’t something we have or feel, so much as something we are. Gratitude is really another word for love, and it is the essence of life. It’s always there, even when we aren’t aware of it.
Even when awareness wanes, gratitude comes to us in glimpses. It comes with looking at a photo of a swan taken on New Year’s Day.
It comes in a snapshot memory of the toss of a daughter’s head as she turns towards me in Disneyland Paris last January or another flicker as both daughters grin below dazzling Christmas lights near the Seine. That joy of realising for the millionth time that somehow I (we) created life. It might seem odd to say this when my daughters are both teenagers, but their existence is still a source of wonderment for me.
February is a blur. Was that the month my friend Pam came to visit, and why do I remember so little of what we did? I do remember she designed the cover of Looking For America then.
In March, I uploaded Looking For America to Amazon’s Kindle site. I didn’t expect much, since everyone knows that short stories don’t sell. So gratitude comes bursting out again when I think of the positive feedback and reviews that the book has received. To be compared to Isabel Allende was a major thrill!
Also in March, the school’s Easter holidays began, and that meant a trip to my parents. I grew up on the edge of the British Isles. In fact, some people describe the island as the edge of the world. It’s easier (and often cheaper) to travel to Paris than to return to my childhood home, but each moment spent with my parents became precious as they grew older. On the last Friday of March we took my father on a trip to a neighbouring island. He was well enough to enjoy the scenery and to walk short distances. He was also well enough to enjoy hot cross buns in the tiny cafe that opened from 11 till 2 each on Fridays. We were extra grateful we’d gone on a Friday!
April breezed in and we walked the hills around the island. How could we feel anything but gratitude, connection to life, with views like these? The wildness of rocks and ocean always reminds me of the eternity of life. Partly it’s the sense of the ocean going on and on around the world, and then there’s the sense of ancestors walking the land. Sometimes it almost seems as if they are there in the air around us.
This might sound romantic and wistful, but the truth is that life was harsh for our ancestors. Their houses were built on a hill near the bay in the lower photo. In the short summer months they grew vegetables on the steeply sloping hillside, and they came down to the shore to go fishing on the open sea in small boats. It was a dangerous and frugal existence. Then, landlords decided they could get more money from sheep than they could from tenant crofters, and families were evicted. My great-great grandmother, pregnant, and with two small children, walked miles over heathery hills to sleep in a relative’s barn.
Neither of my parents could come on these walks with us, so when we got back to their house we uploaded the photos onto a laptop. More memory snapshots: Dad peering at the computer screen, his smile, his delight. My mother hovering nearby, looking on from behind him. Small moments, but precious moments.
May has always been one of my favourite months. It begins with cherry blossoms and ends with the sun shining long into the evening. This year I was also heartened to hear that my father was well enough to go for walks, even going up and down some steep hills near their home. I was also thankful that our older daughter managed a week-long school trip to the World War 1 cemeteries of Belgium and France, immediately followed by a weekend hiking and camping trip for the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme. After years of recurrent illness, this marked the beginning of a new strength in her. (She was still off school afterwards with a heavy cold, but with none of the complications she used to get.)
June saw us back by the ocean, this time dipping our toes into the western edges of the Atlantic. Cape Cod was windy, misty and magical nonetheless. Maybe you are spotting a theme here – only one photo so far that doesn’t have water. The truth is, if I am by the ocean my spirit soars. Peace just is then, no effort, no need to remind myself to be thankful.
Still in June, we were in Boston, one of our favourite cities. If you’ve never been there, I’d like to introduce you to the New England Holocaust Memorial. This memorial stunned me the first time I saw it, and even though this was my third visit, it has lost none of its power. While it is a testament to the horrors that humans are capable of inflicting on others, it is also a testament to the strength of the human spirit.
June was also the month I met up with old friends from art school, some of whom I hadn’t seen since the 1980s. It was mostly organised through Facebook and LinkedIn with people tracking me and others down that way! Thanks Facebook and LinkedIn for making that glorious day and evening possible.
If June was meeting old friends, July brought opportunities to meet new ones.
In New York we met fellow blogger and HubPages writer Mike Pugh and his lovely wife and cousin. That’s us in Central Park on the left, with my husband missing, since he took the photo.
July was also the month I joined in the Ten Things of Thankful blog hop. As well as enjoying writing the thankful posts, I have met many sweet and lovely bloggers through this hop.
August. Part of me wants to wipe August from the calendar. My lovely, wonderful Dad died on the 20th. Our aunt, an equally lovely person, died eleven days later. Yet, as I wrote in the post Thankful For My Father, I am intensely thankful for the precious time I spend with him just days before he died, and for the beautiful conversations we had. I am so, so thankful for the man my father became (and intensely proud of him too.) I am also thankful for how our family held together in those bleak days afterwards, and for the many people who supported us or supported him in his last days.
September‘s grief-filled days were eased by the support of friends both off and on-line, and by Skype calls with my Sedona Method coach Liesbeth. I am thankful for that support. If you were one of those people who offered me condolences and kind words, thank you.
October saw my daughters and I back visiting my mother, thankful to be able to do so, and thankful for an airline credit card that lets me build up points and then get free(ish) flights. (Still have to pay taxes!)
November was the 21st birthday of one of my gorgeous, lovely nieces. She lives near us – in a student flat. So my sister and her husband, my other niece and another of my sisters came to visit. We had fun.
December. Christmas lights. Our younger daughter in the school choir singing carols, and at home playing them on the piano. Visits from family (my husband’s family this time) and from friends. Lazy mornings with the girls, lazy lunches with friends. A walk by the sea on Boxing Day. Sadness at those missing from my Christmas list. But gratitude sneaks in, reminds me I am alive, and that life is gratitude, is love. Oh and I got a blogging award from the lovely Cyndi Calhoun at pictimilitude. I was extra grateful for that award because it came on a day when I felt that low and lonely. It reminded me of thankfulness. December was also the first time that Drawings In Sand briefly sneaked into a top 100 list on Amazon, reaching number 53 in Women’s Literary fiction on the UK site, just two places below Margaret Atwood’s I Dream of Zenia With the Bright Red Teeth! It didn’t stay there for long, but it was exciting while it lasted – and here’s hoping it will be the first of many appearances there.
Finally, very day throughout the year, I get an email with a Daily Peace Quote from Living Compassion. Today’s pretty much sums up my year.
Optimist: someone who figures that taking a step backward after taking a step
forward is not a disaster, it’s a cha-cha.
– Author Unknown
Does it also sum up yours? Or do you have another one?
Happy New Year.
I’m sneaking this post in with just over three hours of 2013 left in the UK, but you still join the Thankful hop or read more posts here: