Random Things to Be Thankful For

52 to be exact

Thankful for my electric toothbrushI love the Thanksgiving holiday. What’s not to like about heaps of yummy food shared with family and friends and taking the time to reflect on what we are (or ought to be) grateful for?

There’s no equivalent holiday in Venezuela, where I’m from. Yet, just like me, my fellow Venezuelan-Americans do Thanksgiving as if they’d made apple pie with their grandmothers as kids and been in the U.S. for generations. Thanksgiving is inclusive, I guess. I’m talking, specifically, about the family, food and gratitude part, as that’s what I think of on Thanksgiving — not so much the part about the pilgrims and Native Americans coming together to celebrate the harvest sometime in the fall of 1621.

Like Americans, Venezuelans are big into food. Unlike Americans, though, we don’t dread getting together with family. Just about anything can be a reason for us to gather with close family, extended family and dozens of folks who are just like family.

Like much of the world, we too aren’t particularly into being grateful. I don’t think humans are wired for gratitude. We always want more, more, MORE and have to train ourselves to be grateful for and content with what we do have. I suppose that’s why there’s such a thing as a gratitude practice, no?

All that said, I am thankful for many things. My health, life, family, food and shelter come to mind. On this Thanksgiving holiday, I’ve decided to go far beyond the obvious, and instead voice (or write, really) all the random personal things I get to be thankful for, whether daily, monthly or just once in my life.

Why 52? Because I’m 52, and I reckon I can come up with as many things to be grateful for as the years I’ve been on this planet.

Here I go then, 52 random things I’m grateful for, in random order.

I’m grateful for / that:
  1. Not being allergic to anything.
  2. I got to see a flock of birds flying across the sky as I was driving on the parkway.
  3. The town library gets the books I want to read ready for me to check out. No need to search for them on the shelves or anything.
  4. The maple tree with red leaves that have not yet fallen.
  5. Being curious.
  6. My routine of going to Coffee for Good (where Diego, my autistic son works) at 4:30 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
  7. Whales. They’re magnificent.
  8. My sister Lole’s invitation to have sancocho (a traditional Venezuelan soup) at her place a few nights ago.
  9. My new hairdryer. It’s a game-changer.
  10. Learning about whales. Did you know that whale pods have culture and traditions?
  11. My husband and sons think I’m awesome.
  12. Having hobbies I love.
  13. Getting to meet my mom and dad at Coffee for Good most Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
  14. Hammocks.
  15. Praying the rosary with my Venezuelan friends most Mondays.
  16. Having colleagues I deeply esteem and care about.
  17. Alone time.
  18. Having people (namely my husband and sons) to snuggle with.
  19. My garage-turned-gym.
  20. Peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter.
  21. Noticing that an Instagram reel I posted a month ago suddenly started to be shared and viewed by more people. (It’s about my son’s funny encounter with a snake.)
  22. Foam on my coffee.
  23. My sister Lole’s teaching me to play Cuatro (the Venezuelan version of a ukelele).
  24. Spotting any wildlife. In my town, this means deer, turkeys, squirrels, hawks, chipmunks, and, occasionally, foxes and coyotes. Oh, and once a bobcat and another time a bear.
  25. My breast implants were removed.
  26. When it rains at night because the sound of rain falling masks my tinnitus.
  27. Learning, largely, to make peace with my tinnitus.
  28. My mouthguard, which protects my teeth and jaw from my mad clenching at night.
  29. Hiking in Montecito and stumbling on hot springs
  30. The first snowfall of the year.
  31. The love letters of my youth. Technology’s great and all (see item 32 next), but nothing beats a long handwritten love letter that made one burn with excitement and longing.
  32. The Smartboard. For those who haven’t been in a classroom lately, the Smartboard is an interactive whiteboard. It replaces the big chalkboard of yesteryear with a solution 23,000 times better! Another game-changer.
  33. The pill that takes away my terror of flying.
  34. My commute is a predictable 20 minutes on well-paved roads and a lovely parkway where I get to behold the changing seasons.
  35. My commute is in the opposite direction of rush hour traffic, both ways.
  36. Treadmills.
  37. Lip balm.
  38. Having lived in three different countries (counting France, where I spent five and a half months while in college).
  39. Caffeine.
  40. The car break worked just when I was getting to a busy intersection that time I hit the gas and the car just kept going faster and faster, even as I furiously pressed on the break.
  41. The reading lamp my husband installed on the bed’s headboard.
  42. Snow days. Nothing beats the excitement of this kind of “day off”. It feels like a whole extra day is added to the year.
  43. The power always comes back on after it goes out.
  44. Labor and delivery were quick for me. Excruciatingly painful to be sure, but quick.
  45. My electric toothbrush. I’ve had it for 15 years and it makes me want to brush my teeth.
  46. Having had my heart broken once in my life. Somehow I feel that experience expanded my heart.
  47. My depression responds well to medication.
  48. My decision to never again wear anything not perfectly comfortable. (Why did it take so long for me to realize life’s too short to buy or keep an uncomfortable garment just because it looks good or is in style?)
  49. Falling asleep easily.
  50. My son Andres’s insistence that I do some strength training, which has helped my lower back tremendously.
  51. Cerro El Avila, the mountain looming like a wise elder over Caracas, the city of my birth. Just thinking about it fills me with awe.
  52. All readers of my stories (yes, you❤️️!).

If you got through the list, well, thank you infinitely for reading.

Now can you think of at least as many random things to be thankful for as how old you are?

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My Scoliosis: The Time I Decided to Never Cry Again

What my scoliosis taught me about suffering vs trauma

Woman lying on a hamoc
Just a selfie…

“I will never cry again,” was the closing sentence of my college admissions essay.

Thirty-five years have passed since that essay and I can summon how I felt and what I experienced during that time of my life with great clarity. I’d say my teenage years are more deeply etched in my psyche  than any other period of my life.  I suspect that’s the case for a good many people.

Perhaps it’s because the brain area reserved for memories is still relatively empty and impressionable in youth, or because more drastic stuff and first-time events happen over the first two decades of life — you know, like realizing your parents don’t know everything, learning to ride a bike, making your first friend, getting through puberty, being left out and falling in love.

It is telling that long-ago memories and names remain most accessible as diseases like Alzheimer’s progress, don’t you think? As my father-in-law’s dementia advanced, for instance, he began to call his wife mamma, or Gemma (his sister’s name).

Anyhow, my brain often conjures up memories from the five years spanning my 14th to 19th birthdays. That’s when the trajectory of my life took its first radically unexpected turn — in hindsight, neither a good nor bad turn, though at the time, it certainly felt like a calamity.

It all started at 14 with the horrid back brace I had to wear to prevent my idiopathic scoliosis from progressing. It just so happened that the brace coincided with the stealthy onset of depression, a sense of abandonment by my childhood friends, an irrational feeling of social inadequacy, and a desperate need to escape my life -this last impulse being the reason I decided to go far far away for college and wrote that essay.

To me, the brace was to blame for it all. It wasn’t of course. As it turns out, when it comes to depression, my family won the devil’s lottery. My genes were largely its origin; I just didn’t know it then. As to suffering, it spares not one human.

Back then, though, I was convinced of the direct and unique brace-misery causality. Once my back treatment ended, I would never, ever cry again, I solemnly swore to myself.

Over the years, I’ve pondered my never-cry-again attitude a great deal.

For one thing, my teenage woes are surely insignificant compared to the traumatic events in the lives of other teenagers.

“It is intolerable to have one’s own sufferings twinned with anybody else’s,” notes Susan Sontag in Regarding the Pain of Others. I mean, if you were the only one in your family to survive the Rwandan genocide or the 2004 Pacific Ocean tsunami, then you’re certainly right to shake your head when you hear about my stupid teenage misery.

I don’t have to go far, however, to be reminded of the ordinariness of my experience: my father suffered third-degree burns as a child. He basically lost half of his face. Hard to imagine the psychological and physical pain of going through adolescence with a face which doctors try to gradually make whole.

Still, I’ve learned that suffering is suffering.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl captures well this dimension of suffering:

A man’s suffering is similar to the behavior of a gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the “size” of human suffering is absolutely relative.

Here’s a question for you: if the size of suffering is relative, how about its effects?

I say NO, not the effects.

My teenage suffering didn’t lead to trauma or PTSD, for instance. What my father went through as a child could have. War, parental neglect and sexual abuse also tend to do so.

Suffering is inevitable. Trauma is not.

Take my scoliosis related suffering. It was real, but I had two loving parents and six siblings I could rely on as friends, not to mention the fact that the treatment was effective.

I wouldn’t have gone to college in the US -instead of my native Venezuela- were it not for my scoliosis and the regular checkups and brace adjustments I traveled to New York for. In this sense, the brace, beyond causing suffering, altered my life. Who knows, it likely made me more resilient and sensitive to the pain of others.

It certainly hardened me. I probably have cried no more than eight times since I turned 18 and my brace was put away. I can only recall two times when the tears flowed as if a damn had been breached. I will certainly blog about those at some point.

All in all, my scoliosis was a life experience that involved, among other things, suffering, a bit of enlightenment, altered life choices and many trips to New York City.

Traumatic, my scoliosis decidedly was not.

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