Thoughts of thanks when it’s not Thanksgiving
In the beginning of yoga class, the teacher asks us to set an intention or dedicate the practice to someone or something.
I often think of my cat (yes, seriously. and no, I’m not a cat lady) as a warm reminder of kindness and patience. I don’t love cats, in fact most cats I’ve met scratch, scowl and hide under beds, I just really love my 17-year-old, gray tabby-Maine coon cat because he’s special. Even my anti-cat, no-pets-for-me friends agree.
Other times, I think of the people in my life who deserve some extra thought and send them some telepathic thanks. These people aren’t my quotidian folks, they’re usually characters from a previous chapter or person who left an impression when we crossed paths, however briefly.
I know it’s not November, so it’s not Thanksgiving and the holidays aren’t upon us, which makes thoughtfulness all the more sincere. Take a minute and think about someone unusual. Give thanks and appreciate their impact, influence or memory, be it small, silly or sensitive.
This takes me to…
My first grade teacher and her classroom, which she transformed into an elaborate, year-round, paper-machee rainforest, much to the dislike of the principal and janitors but to the delight of our little class of six-year-olds. She spent her summer vacations living in hammocks in the Amazon and brought her passion to the classroom. We learned about lemurs and tree frogs, how trees grow and why flowers close at night. We were six and could barely write our names, but we knew the difference between the canopy and the emergent layers and which creatures could live on the forest floor, should anyone ask. She was the silver-hair hippie type, but she was tough, demanding and pissed off a lot of parents. But she knew what she was doing and she loved it. She inspired six-year-olds to daydream and dream big about the world outside 1-H.
My third grade teacher who, again to the disdain of janitors, the principal and presumably kids with allergies, kept an Angora rabbit, a cage of hamsters and a cat named Jake in her classroom. She didn’t like me very much because I ate Polly-O string cheese at my desk and left the wrappers on the floor, but I loved her barnyard classroom and how she incorporated the animals into lessons (and classroom chores). It was in this classroom I learned how to care for animals as part of life.
My ancient piano teacher, her two-room apartment that was engulfed by the black grand piano (not a baby grand, a legit grand piano in a 600sq. ft. apartment) and the stickers I earned for every song. The time I spent sitting and coloring on her couch, adjacent to the piano, eating packaged cookies she left on plates, waiting for the student before me to finish. When I was younger and didn’t understand why this may be offensive, I would bring spare cookies with me to the piano bench, rest them on the piano ledge, and snack on them in between songs, leaving crumbs on my lap and on the keys. We took a recess in between scales and sonatas to catch up on my personal life. She was a mentor and a wonderful listener. On the rare occasion, she would mention her son, her ex-husband, and the fictional novels and full-length scores she wrote, but the focus was on the keys and me, what I wanted to learn and where I was going with my life. She wore more makeup than Elizabeth Taylor, but she never left her apartment, except for our annual recital at the retail piano store and gallery. She taught two dozen students, and I practiced with her for twelve years. I think about her, how she adored my sister and me, and what a truly unique person she is (or was). She was old then, older now. Every time I drive by her building, I’m tempted to pop into the lobby and see if her name is still on the apartment listing to buzz in. She was the essence of patience and illegible handwriting.
Our neighbor who passed away at 98. She looked like what I imagine the old lady who lived in the shoe would look like if she baked cookies and pies all day. White haired, tiny hunched frame, furry moles, gray-blue eyes and creased, freckled skin - yet enchanting and adorable. My dad and I would offer a hand in the yard, a lightbulb in the house or company in her walk around the block. Occasionally, my sister and I would invite ourselves in during a bike ride around the neighborhood, randomly deciding now would be a good time to say hi. We’d usually find her listening to the radio in her kitchen or kneeling in her flowerbed; she was always delighted to have the neighborhood children stop by. Otherwise, she kept to herself in the humble home on the corner. When she passed away, my dad and I went to her funeral. Her children and grandchildren spoke and mentioned my dad by name. He cried, we cried, and I realized just how special we were to her. I thought we were small, insignificant neighbors just doing neighborly things, but, to a 98-year-old lady who lived alone, it meant a lot.
My mass communications law professor in my senior year at Penn State. I sat in the same seat, front row to the left, and never missed a class, not a minute late. He was so revved on law and journalism. I had never set the curve on a test or considered a career in law until his obvious passion for the class inspired me to take the LSATs and meet during office hours. It was my favorite class at Penn State, which says a lot for a school of 40,000 students and thousands of class options. I maintained e-mail correspondence after graduation and learned that he moved to Colorado the next spring to pursue his passion for outdoor adventure and go back to school. It’s true, you only live once. Do what you like; like what you do.
I’m also continuously inspired by the memory of my grandparents, friends I’ve lost touch with and family I don’t see enough.
The sun is out this golden hour, and there’s plenty of time to dream. So remember about those people you don’t usually think about and give thanks to your supporting characters.