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The Midlife Sage Says: Avoid The Platitude About Gratitude

Feeling guilty because your Thanksgiving experience never resembles the Norman Rockwell painting of a happy family gathered around a lovely table as Grandma in her white apron proudly delivers a perfect turkey?

Instead, does your feast often include a drunk uncle, at least one pouting teenager, grandpa blowing his nose on the fine linen, a power outage, gag-inducing gravy, cousins chasing each other with the electric carving knife, a devil-nephew cramming olive pits up his nose, and a quarrel between some adults who should be sitting at the children’s table? Maybe it’s time to put down the drumsticks and the shotguns and just relax. If you get to midnight on Thanksgiving without a single drama, count your blessings, indeed.

We should go over the river and through the woods and then keep on going just to avoid all the glossy images, trite platitudes, and impossible expectations about this holiday. Forget Rockwell’s famous portrait because most grandmothers don’t wear white aprons after fixing a messy meal, and there is a good chance that this year they’ll introduce their new boyfriends instead of picture-perfect platters of browned butterballs. And Martha Stewart is not coming over, so forget the hand-painted placemats and pilgrim-shaped gelatin molds.

After a few decades, we older women ease up on the stressful requirements and have no qualms about using prepared gravy mixes, boxed stuffing, and leftover Halloween napkins. As long as the turkey is done and the wine is open, we’re just fine. My mother’s generation washed Thanksgiving dishes until their hands turned numb while the menfolk watched TV, smoked, and farted. My daughter’s generation finds both men and women working together in the kitchen. I’m thankful that I’ve lived long enough to witness such profound progress.

After experiencing more than 50 Thanksgivings, most of us have at least one that came at a pivotal time in our lives.

For me, Thanksgiving provided a poignant perspective a few years ago when I was a middle-aged divorcee and it seemed that everyone in the entire world was part of a happy, loving, and thankful couple. I survived the holiday for two reasons: I never miss a good meal, and I was determined to show gratitude. The second reason was more challenging than the first. I tackled the dilemma by doing something completely spontaneous and crazy: That Thanksgiving I booked a reservation for a cruise the following March to Costa Rica, Panama, and Cozumel.

The cruise was called, ironically, the Gratitude Cruise. I found the information while researching one of my favorite speakers, Dr. Sue Morter. I previously had attended her International Living Seminar as part of a business conference. She is a healer and a teacher, and she focuses on the connections between the mind, the body, and the spirit. I know this sounds way too new-age for my old-age sensibilities, but when you hit bottom you look for the light, any light.

I went on the cruise alone. During the week, the programs included music and workshops about inner peace, meditation, acceptance, resilience, and, most important, gratitude. After wallowing in the negative emotions associated with my divorce, the positive messages were the antidote to the poison that consumed my thoughts.  I returned renewed, refreshed, and ready to live out loud with an attitude of gratitude. Thank you.

By Elaine Ambrose, a contributing blogger for JenningsWire.