I began the richly textured month of November in France, returning home in time to vote and begin our Happiness Retreat at the Inn at Stonington. Everything about the varied, meaningful days has filled my heart with overflowing gratitude. The culmination of this splendid month of November was the family celebration of Thanksgiving.
I hope your day of thanks filled you with an abundant feeling of blessings for family and friends, for the opportunity to spend time together in the spirit of gathering together to begin new generational rituals as well as repeating traditions that you inherited from your parents and grandparents. Whether all together as an extended family or separated by distance and children scattered, some being a part of their in-laws, the details change, but the spirit of Thanksgiving intensifies in meaning and pleasure as the years accumulate.
Suddenly I awakened to the reality that I am the matriarch of our family. I took the train to Washington to be with my oldest daughter, Alexandra, and her husband, Peter and our three teenage grandchildren, Nicholas, Anna and Lily, and their precious elderly golden retriever, Homer. Our younger daughter, Brooke, her husband, Tony and their ten-year-old daughter, Cooper, arrived from New York City. Being together, relaxed and happy over several days of sharing in the preparation of the feast brings to mind my Thanksgiving past, and how we are all alive in the external flow of unity and time, family, love, and continuity.
Time is external. Love is external. My daughters are now creating rituals and ceremonies in their own homes, and I am the grateful mother, admiring their precious children. Our ancestors are with us when we train ourselves to practice “conscious reflection” drawing all the beauty of the past into the present. Just as children will leave, our mother and father, our parents, will inevitably leave us when they die. The people “at table” on Thanksgiving Day change just as the location and style of ceremony evolves with the specific circumstances, but the core meaning of coming together in the spirit of love and giving thanks remains. We are the ones who are alive, living with intentions to support our loved ones in whatever ways we can, as we honor and dignify those who are now with us in spirit.
What strikes me dramatically about this specific Thursday in November is that the purpose of the holiday is to give thanks for the unbounded blessings of our loving human interconnectedness. Rather than feeling a sense of loss over those great souls whose time on earth came before ours, by our meditation on giving tribute to these heroes who helped us to thrive, being true to our highest values, we bring these people to life through our opening up of our hearts. We can’t turn their goodness into sadness when we feel their powerful perseverance and love. Whenever we focus our awareness on a particular person who died with “conscious reflection” (something I do regularly with Peter and the people I feel so close to who have died), we feel a sense of communication and their guidance. For me, often, when something moves me about Peter, my body responds viscerally. I tingle in my upper thighs and other parts of my body when connection is made. Whenever I’m engaged in a meaningful way with a friend or advisor, anyone who genuinely respects me, and we are relating, my mind, heart and body unite in their energy surge.
Time interrelating, honest communication, sharing, soul-to-soul, is rare, and extraordinarily beautiful. As I celebrated turning seventy-seven, I felt surrounded by a loving aura. The Happiness Retreat was my absolute favorite. I was never more relaxed as I returned from my private retreat in France in order to concentrate my full attention on “Men in My Life.” My well was full; I was looking forward to spending time with like-minded, old good friends and meeting new ones. Because all the stars were in their rightful places, each of us felt the warmth and caring of everyone who wanted to come. Everyone added their wisdom and knowledge to our experience.
Clearly I was stimulated by my love of Aristotle. The idea that I’ll be able to spark a passion for you to identify more of the people of character who have shaped and influenced your choices is great inspiration to me as a writer. I’m humbled to realize that such a large reason for my happiness is the deep friendships I’ve made who have read my books. These connections are so genuine and pure. Meeting my readers means as much to me as a reader finds in coming face-to-face with an author they enjoy. There’s a built-in communion. We’ve already broken bread together before we meet.
As I celebrate these men of extraordinary integrity and courage, I think about how fortunate I am to have so many people I love and adore in my life now. I visualize all the books you and I have read. Contemplate all the research and learning we’re able to share through our coming together to enlarge each other’s potential for deeper knowledge and wisdom. Our potential for increasing happiness as we mature depends on our love of learning. The greater the desire to know, to be curious enough to figure out why and how things work the way they do, is key to our happiness in our older years. The insatiable desire to learn, to consciously use our minds to put to use all our innate gifts by turning possibilities into actual achievements is key to our happiness. By observing nature we learn that everything comes alive and then dies. We are living, we are aware our mother and father “came into being,” and we are here because of the interaction between them in eternal generational reproduction. I refer to Aristotle: “God’s solution to the problem of creating an eternal being… by making ‘coming-to-be’ a perpetual process… The continuous coming-to-be of ‘coming-to-be’ is the nearest approach to eternal being.”
On Thanksgiving morning, Alexandra and I went to the National Cathedral to enjoy being in this grand, historical space in the Nation’s capital where all the president’s funerals take place. Several hours later, “at table,” her son Nicholas read George Washington’s October 3, 1789 proclamation.
When his twin sister Anna was five she held my hands and inquired, “why are you so old ‘Big Mommy’?” I explained to her that unless I was old enough to have children, I had to be of a certain age, and now is it my daughter’s time to have her own children. “Oh.” Big grin. Big thought to contemplate being alive!
A huge part of our happiness on Thanksgiving and every day is to keep our parents and grandparents near us in our appreciation and awe at our being alive. We are here as a perpetual natural process, to have our ancestors live in and through us. Keeping loved ones alive and present in our daily lives can bring even deeper love than you knew when they were alive, I speak from experience.
As we continue our holiday preparations and celebrations in the giving thanks spirit of December, I’m thankful to each of you for all the happiness you bring me. I think of you when I write, because books are what brought us together. By writing to you over the holidays, I feel you are here, having a conversation, perhaps over tea or coffee.
Enjoy lighting lights, creating memories with your rituals and ceremonies. Pause after. Be sure to pace yourself. Pause again to reflect. Deep breathe in; over tea, curl up in a chair and read. This season is a reminder of how much we love life and how important we are to each other.
Happy Holiday Season!