A Time to Think About Gratitude

"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" By Jennie A. Brownscombe

“The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” By Jennie A. Brownscombe

Given that the U.S. tradition of Thanksgiving goes back to the Pilgrims — though the official holiday is newer — it is something of a religious holiday. They were Puritans, after all, and I’m sure they gave thanks to God for their survival. Though given the help they got from the Native Americans, I hope they spared a few words of gratitude for them as well.

Since I find it impossible to believe in a being or beings that created the world, much less in one(s) that intervene in the affairs of humanity, I’m not much for giving thanks to God or gods or even goddesses. But I do think Thanksgiving is a good time to mention how thankful I am for other people and the things they have done for me.

At the top of the list is my sister, Katrinka Moore. Over the last several years we worked together to take care of our father, who passed away in February. We complemented each other — I did weekly visits and paid bills; she handled moves and making the hard decisions — and we were always in agreement. I see families that are torn apart by this process, so I am doubly grateful.

After a lifetime of being happily single, I am now learning how to share my life with another person. So I am very grateful for my sweetheart, Jim Lutz, for showing me this possibility.

I have a great wealth of friends. Since I’ve been back in Austin these past few years, I’ve reconnected with friends I made in college, but I also have friends scattered all over this planet. I’m especially grateful for my writing and Aikido friends, both of whom keep me honest.

But what really got me thinking about gratitude this year — besides the fact that I blog on Thursdays, making Thanksgiving my day — was watching people dealing with health care choices. Because I have very good insurance through my former employer, I do not have to deal with the health care exchanges, something for which I’m very grateful. I find it stressful enough to deal with regular checkups and trips to the dentist without worrying about how I’m going to pay for it if they find something expensive wrong with me.

And that made me realize how grateful I am for the company I used to work for, BNA, Inc. (now Bloomberg BNA), and for my union, the Newspaper Guild, a division of the Communication Workers of America.

It was something of a shock, because like everyone else in the world I bitched about my job most of the time. And as someone who would rather have been writing fiction, I often complained about the time I wasted at work when I could have been doing something I valued more but which, alas, did not pay me quite so well.

But the truth is, I had a great job. I worked as a legal editor for most of my career there and then spent the last few years as the Austin correspondent. As a legal editor, I became an expert on class actions, which satisfied a nerdy drive for detailed legal analysis without the accompanying stress of practicing law. As a correspondent, I was on top of most of the major legal and regulatory things going on in Texas.

Fiction writers debate about whether to take day jobs that involve writing. On the one hand, writing all day for work leaves you less than enthused about coming home and doing more writing. On the other, it’s amazing how much you can learn about writing when you have to do it on deadline every day. Spending the time to write sentences that make complex issues clear teaches you a lot about what a sentence is supposed to do.

Not only was it a good job, but the pay and benefits were good. Our union fought for those things. And I’m still reaping the benefits even though I took early retirement this year.

While management and the union didn’t always see eye-to-eye, the company was always family friendly. When I needed time off to help care for my father, I ran into no roadblocks at all. My boss and the many editors I wrote for were always supportive.

I know too many people who have worked just as hard as I have over the years and who have been pushed out of their jobs with nothing. I count it among the real blessings of my life that I spent a chunk of it working for a good company.

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A Time to Think About Gratitude — 2 Comments

  1. I went to a talk by Ann Patchett recently. Her first day job was college professor, and she found that teaching consumed her mental capacity and she couldn’t write fiction. She quit and got a job as a waitress at TGI Fridays. She could do that while thinking about fiction, but it left her too physically tired to write. Then she tried witting nonfiction magazine articles—not well-researched investigative journalism, but fast “how to pick bridesmaid dresses” and the like. These earned enough money to keep her going, while leaving her the mental and physical energy to write the fiction she loved. I fear that a novelist starting out today isn’t making enough from that sort of article to pull off the same thing.
    She’s a fantastic speaker, by the way. Very entertaining.

    I’m no historian, but weren’t the pilgrims just doing a bit of a harvest festival, similar to ones they’d have participated in back home? How that turned into Black Friday consumer orgies is another tale. I’m off to a family potluck dinner that will include 50 people, where I shall enjoy catching up with people, and try not to eat myself into a coma.

    • You’re probably right about the pilgrims. I think my idea of that as the First Thanksgiving dates back to elementary school — probably an unreliable reference.

      I found it easier to write fiction on the side when I did editing in my day job than I did when I wrote news stories. The struggle over how to say something used the same brain skills, while fixing something someone else had written didn’t affect me as much.