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?

Share Article

The Power of Prayer: It’s Not What You Think!

Three reasons to embrace prayer

Man in prayer
Diego prays

I’m too skeptical or lacking in faith to believe God intercedes when we invoke him in prayer. I mean, if I were to ask God, “Please, God, don’t let my son be one of the unnamed casualties from this shooting,” or, “Please, God, let my sister be one of the survivors in the tornado,” he wouldn’t go in and change the outcome, now would he?

Plus, I’d be praying to a pretty macabre God who’d be letting someone else die and their loved ones suffer just so he could answer my prayer. For all I know, the other people involved might be more saintly than me and be praying more fervently.

In fact, I don’t even know if I believe in God. Some days I do and feel there surely is something after all this we call life. Some days I don’t and view all religions as made-up stories we humans have come up with to ease our existential dread.

And yet, I do believe in the power of prayer for the three reasons that follow.

1. Prayer Builds Community

Fabiola, a magnificent woman I get to call my friend, came down with cancer a couple of years ago. A few months after her diagnosis, someone came up with the idea of creating a prayer group for her. Almost every week since then, we’ve all gotten together to chat and pray, not only for Fabi, but for situations others in the group bring up.

Even through COVID — especially through COVID — we kept it up. The group includes thirty women, and it has been a source of community. It’s where we tell one another our big sorrows and concerns. It’s where we find solidarity.

Some in the group are devout Catholics like my mother; some are just culturally Catholic like me. Some are convinced God heard our prayers and made their relatives’ COVID mild, while others are certain God intervened in mysterious ways that will remain unknowable to us. A few probably think something entirely different.

It really doesn’t matter what each of us believes. What matters is the community we’ve built. What matters is the soothing effect produced by the rhythmic recitation of the prayers and litanies. What matters is that those who need support have felt supported.

And if God directly intervenes in mysterious ways, well then prayer will help with that too.

2. Prayer Is Grounding

I have the best mother in the world. No, really. I’m not just saying it because she’s my mom. She just is. My mother’s generous, loving, fun, and energetic. She never gets bored and she’s the best company. Everyone loves to be around her.

I believe her prayer habit has a lot to do with it. My mom prays a lot and attends mass several times a week. Being of the Roman Catholic faith, her routine revolves around the rosary.

She prays while holding her rosary beads, eyes closed, thumb and index finger gently pinching the bridge of her nose. The moment she picks up her rosary, her face adopts the same expression of complete concentration, rapture, and surrender.

Wise lady that she is, my mom’s not one to indoctrinate. She did raise her children Catholic. We all went to Catholic school, to church on Sundays, and received all the sacraments. But so did everyone else I knew back in Caracas, Venezuela, where we’re from. And she hardly bugged me when I stopped attending mass.

I’m convinced one of the main reasons my mom, at 80, is so psychologically strong, is her daily prayer practice. I imagine it does the same for her as what meditation practice does for solid meditators. It grounds her and helps her live in the moment.

The focus of my mom’s prayers ranges from specific individuals to the whole of humankind. She doesn’t ask God for particular outcomes. To her, divine intervention takes the form of God granting people gifts like strength, compassion, equanimity, clarity, courage, acceptance, and changes of heart.

3. Prayer Is Calming and Reassuring

Unlike my mother, my son, Diego (who’s 27 and autistic), prays for very specific things. His asks include outcomes he wants for himself as well as for people he cares about.

When he prays, he brings his hands together just under his chin, recites the Lord’s Prayer (the only one he knows), and asks God for things like helping him find a girlfriend, making our friend Fabiola better, and helping the victims of the latest natural disaster.

More often, though, Diego prays to ease his anxiety.

Uncertainty, in particular, makes him anxious. And so, after saying his “Our Father Who Art in Heaven”, he’ll simply tell God, as if he were sitting right in front of him, all the stuff he hopes for:

“God, I will go visit my friend Owen. And God, my mom won’t get angry with me ever again. And God, we’ll go out for ice cream, and I’ll call Tia Lole only once from now on. And God….” He’ll go on and on. And then he’ll move on — for a while.

Final Thoughts

The way I see it, the power of prayer is largely unrelated to being religious or practicing a specific faith.

I’d say it’s a great tool that helps fulfill human needs. I, for one, pray mainly to build community and to calm myself. I’m seriously afraid of flying and praying always helps me relax and pass the time. It has an involuntary, almost calming, effect on my brain, which, by the way, also helps me fall asleep.

I used to feel conflicted about praying because, as I wrote above, I’m not even sure I believe in God. I now pray when I feel the need with no reservations whatsoever. The human experience is contradictory and messy, and we best avail ourselves with whatever psychological and spiritual tools will help us navigate it.

Share Article