With Gratitude We Go Forth

It's only November, and I’m freezing.  There are no leaves left, the ground lays bare, the winter looms.
While I know many who adore this season and cheer the advent of the coming winter snows, fall remains dead last in my seasonal preferences.  

For me, there is but one highlight in November:  Thanksgiving.  But it’s not the food (although I do like a good piece of pumpkin pie).  It’s the forced act of gratitude.

I am chastened to admit that I easily go through my daily life, politely saying thank you, as I was taught–and as I have endeavored to teach my own kids.  But do I really mean it, or am I just mouthing the words?

A few years ago, I decided that I must find more in November than just the “harbinger of death” moniker I’d given to this eleventh month of the year. I embarked on an experiment of purposeful gratitude. I came up with a lofty ambition of writing one thank you note a day, for all thirty days, to different people for different things.  I was convinced it would be easy–and good for me, all at the same time.

Well, I was right about it being a positive act for my outlook.  Looking outward and acknowledging blessings is undeniably uplifting–no matter the weather.  But I was unpleasantly surprised by how stumped I became around, oh, November 18th, as I raced through my mental list of people that I should thank, could thank, have thanked, and still might thank.  

However, this morning, my gratitude expanded. I realized I have only been thinking about current thank you’s.  For some reason, I reflected backwards and realized there is a whole world full of people who have helped form who I am today.

I love the Spanish way of saying that someone’s actions “marked you”.  It’s a vivid embodiment of the debt I owe to one of my college professors, Dr. Garrigus, and his wife, Olive.  These two warm and generous souls dedicated their lives to helping young, impressionable students from tiny towns in the rural areas of Illinois.  They helped us to imagine--and experience–the world, something we probably wouldn’t have done on our own.  Dr. Garrigus gave unconditionally of his time and his contacts, connecting people and quietly urging you to step up and make a difference where you can. He believed in his students and his friends, even when you couldn’t see it yet yourself. I am among many whose lives they nourished and radically altered by their simple acts of caring and belief.

There are so many others who have guided me.  I remember Mrs. Reed, who taught reading with joy and happiness to a bunch of active first graders.  The world of history opened up with Ms. Gardner in third grade.  In my mind’s eye, I can still see our group’s huge cardboard refrigerator box where we “time traveled”.  The joy of music came from our band teacher, the same man from fourth grade on, the unflappable Mr. Vaughn.  We feared his ire at first. But by our junior year, we lined up to play at his incredibly untimely funeral service, sobbing but confidently giving back with the gifts he had patiently bestowed on us.

I think of 4-H leaders who painstakingly guided our pre-teen summer hours of flower arranging, yeast bread baking and dairy cattle showing.  I see a drill team coach, Tarb, standing in front of us, insisting on perfection–and cheering with sheer joy when, against all odds, we competed well against teams from the  larger suburban schools.  I go back to the hours of dance instruction at J&J Tumbling, where “doing our best” was all that was expected–nothing more, but also nothing less.  I remember religious leaders Julie & Gary & Bev & Bob & Trudy, all driving our youth group for 24 hours.  Our adventure included a school bus with no heat–although we had a large sheet and a large bucket in case of emergencies. Those adults were determined to broaden our world through the drive across the expanses to the mountains.  I remember friends’ parents, neighbors, the whole community... in my recollections, they all pushed and prodded us to become who we are today.  The list is humbling indeed.

I look around today, and my adult-aware-level of gratitude grows for this community.  In a very similar fashion, it is where my children experience these same things.  These are the friends’ parents who put them in line... the educators who accept them as they are–and still urge them to become better versions of themselves... the lacrosse coaches who encourage, cajole and push... the ice skating guards who teach decorum and patience... the volunteer winter sports chaperones who guide them down the slope...

We gratitude, we go forth, into true thanks-giving.  May your holiday be filled with joyful thanks-gathering and memories as well.

Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools–now at the high school, middle school and elementary school levels.  She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment, the Brattleboro Town School Board and the Early Education Services policy council.  Contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..