Sandy left profound ruin and wreckage in its wake. But the storm also left illuminating Thanksgiving lessons, if we would only open our eyes to them. Sandy was what Buddhists call a “happy blessed opportunity.” A euphemism for a bummer, it refers to the notion that we learn the best lessons from life’s toughest experiences. Sandy was not, in truth, more than a prolonged nuisance for those of us who only lost our power, not our homes, businesses or entire communities. But Sandy derailed us, upended our every routine, from grabbing a morning coffee to watching news (of Sandy’s destruction!) What did we learn about the surprising blessings of silence, interdependence and simplicity that can enrich our Thanksgiving gatherings? Consider the following examples:
-“We had more fun in a week than we’ve had together in a long time: cards, Scrabble, Apples to Apples by a fire. Sure we got on each other’s nerves, but we had a lot of closeness. My 13 year old opened up about something really painful she never would have confided in me were it not for all that free hanging out time. I am so grateful to the storm for that!” (Mother of three children)
-“At first it was a total drag, but it got to be liberating not checking email, twitter, facebook and texts. Time was less chopped up. A part of me was sorry when the power was restored. But like a well-trained rat pressing the pellet bar, I instantly returned to my old mindless habits. (Consultant)
-“My neighbors were shocked that I came over to check on their well-being. Shocked and really touched. Even though we’ve look out into each other’s kitchen windows for years, we never really talked. Now it’s a nice caring connection. We want to throw a block party now to build on the Sandy-based neighborly bonds.” (writer)
-The return of the ordinary brought me sheer joy: Gassing up the car without a 3 hour wait! Doing laundry! Being warm! I didn’t realize how much I take for granted until it was taken away from me.” (lawyer)
An “act of God” freed us from our self-alienating routines. An act of self-determination can prevent us from reinstating these old habits, starting this week, with this first post-Sandy Thanksgiving. How?
1) Practice Gratitude: Note and appreciate the basic comforts you complacently take for granted; shelter, food, electricity, water, health, family and friends. Don’t experience appreciation for vital staples only when you’ve just lost them. Cultivate gratitude for the abundant blessings you enjoy right now. Dr. Robert Emmons, the UC-Davis specialist in gratitude research, found that daily gratitude exercises are associated with increased happiness (by 25%!), improved sleep, and enhanced alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy. If a medication achieved the same transformation, it would sell better than Ambien. And gratitude has no side effects other than elevating the spirits of those around you! (http://www.spring.org.uk/2007/09/practicing-gratitude-can-increase.php)
2) Increase community-interconnectedness, by hosting a pot-luck-leftover party, planning a holiday block party, organizing a neighborhood donation pick-up for coats and bedding for the displaced and homeless, and orchestrating any excuse for improving neighborhood-connectedness.
3) Connect Thanksgiving with Caregiving (rather than mall-crawling): Find a way to give a few hours of your time to those in need locally; the storm victims, the homeless, the hospitalized or the hungry. Include your kids. However much they may protest, they cannot know until they’ve had the experience, just how rewarding it is to serve others. Our job as parents is to instill that lesson in them, like it or not!
4)Celebrate your playful side: We forget what fun playing games can be until we are forcibly deprived of electronic distractions. Why not devote an hour to senseless board, card and party games-- the more absurd the better. (E.g. charades, hide and seek, pin the tail on the donkey, musical chairs- all hilarious with adults, with or without kids). Children thrill at seeing grown-ups be goofy, and learn that growing up need not be synonymous with growing boring.
5) Instate your own private “black-outs.” Get unplugged for several hours and savor the serenity of silence and simplicity. It’s good for your sanity, your creativity, and your soul. .
Just because the transformers are repaired and the power lines are back up does not mean we should reflexively flip the switches back on fully. How about installing a dimmer switch so we can decide how much time and energy we WANT to commit to encroaching demands! We can chose. We can be mindfully intentional instead of mindlessly reactive. When our worlds lurched to a hushed stop during Sandy, we saw family and community life in an illuminating, generous-spirited light. This Thanksgiving, let’s honor our enlightenment by splicing it into our daily routines.