Gratitude with a Side of Turkey

I went to Sloan Kettering two weeks ago for my quarterly testing and got the all clear!  Now that I am about 2 years away from my last round of chemo my oncologist says my chance of recurrence is now less than 2% which sounds pretty low to me and, just as important, I feel great.  I still have a small amount of pain leftover from the surgeries but it usually doesn’t bother me unless I am trying to get especially twisty during yoga.  

The past year has been, hands down, the happiest and fullest of my life.  KR and I have just been l-i-v-i-n’ without any major health issues, house building, wedding or any big deal projects.  We’ve been taking time to slow down.  To try to meet our daughter on the smooth and slippery wave of the present moment (which is the only place an infant can really be met).  When Juniper was born last year it felt like the dawn at the end of a long and painful night and the months since then have been full of light and warmth and fruit and harvest.  And poop.  

I have been continuing some focus on healing.  This work has become (and perhaps always was) intertwined with more general personal growth and learning.  And it has moved beyond the physical into the emotional and spiritual realms.  I sense and hope that this reassembling and exploration will never quite end.  

One of the areas of growth for me has been trying to get better at being grateful.  These past few Thanksgiving days I have reflected on aspects of my life for which I am grateful: the very fact that I am alive, my wife’s love, our family, our community, my work, financial stability, the place where we live, the abundance of music and art and food and so many amazing people in our life, the prayers and care and thoughts and messages and gifts and hugs and tears and medicine I was given when I was sick, our cat and dog, the honey from the bees and the sap from the trees, the light in Juniper’s eyes when I open her door in the morning, the impossibly beautiful sunset last week, et cetera, et cetera.  The list is unending, unknowable, overwhelming and moves me to tears by itself.

But I have come to suspect that the art of gratitude is not simply taking inventory.  It is also recognizing and remembering how fleeting and impermanent that inventory is.  The plain fact is that all of us, and everything and everyone on our lists, will be gone one day.  And when you start to hold gratitude in this frame something shifts.  Grief shows up.  

You start to feel the inevitable loss and your heart begins to grieve.  Just a little bit.  It can be uncomfortable and scary. But that depth of feeling and those tears may be the highest praise and the most active form of gratitude. You are giving of your self, your heart in that moment or, as Martin Prechtel says, “Our tears are the food of the gods.”

It’s hard to always hold this level of conscious gratitude and at the same time function in the workaday world.  So perhaps another limb of the practice of gratitude is to give back in more concrete ways.  

I have been working on giving more of myself in a variety of ways and have been learning more about groups focused on young adult and testicular cancer.  

This year, I have joined forces with fellow TC survivor and friend, Tom Berenberg, to raise money for rare cancer research at Sloan Kettering as part of Cycle for Survival (the team has been renamed The Nutcrackers).  100% of the funds raised go directly to research including helping to fund two studies in which I am a subject! I would be honored and deeply appreciative if you would consider donating to the team (click here to give online).  And if you want to join the team and ride let me know. Additionally, all proceeds from the sale of my book, BLOOM, go to the same cause (here’s the link to Amazon) and, until midnight tonight, all proceeds from online sales at my sister-in-law’s store, The Foundry Home Goods, will go to The Nutcrackers.  

Thanksgiving has swiftly become my favorite holiday.  Despite somewhat controversial origins it now seems to simply be a relatively apolitical, non-religious time of slowing down, fellowship with friends and family, and an invitation to practice the art of gratitude.  This morning I walked into the woods carrying a plastic bag containing the carcass of a 32-pound turkey that we had feasted on for the last three days.  I clambered up the steep leaf-covered hill and found the flat rock that occasionally serves as a sort of altar.  I lit some sage, said a few words, cried, spread out the bones and scraps on the rock, walked down the hill, smiled, and felt great.

Gracias, gracias, gracias.

high fives

KR, Juniper and my oncologist, Dr. Feldman, congratulating each other on my health and a job well done :)

Comments

  1. Larry Hayes says:

    So happy to hear it! Let’s get together and read some poetry soon!

  2. Kirstie Benedict says:

    Jay. i was recently thinking of you. and this blog. i thought does that mean no news is good news? i wasn’t sure. so i am so happy to read your post.

    This is one of my favorite lines:
    But that depth of feeling and those tears may be the highest praise and the most active form of gratitude.

    …also love the name Nutcracker.

  3. Geese appear high over us,
    pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
    as in love or sleep, holds
    them to their way, clear
    in the ancient faith: what we need
    is here. And we pray, not
    for new earth or heaven, but to be
    quiet in heart, and in eye,
    clear. What we need is here.

    – Wendell Berry

  4. Dearest Jay and family, We LOVE you and we LOVE your excellent medical numbers! Less than 2 percent chance of recurrence, wow. Let’s jam!

  5. Happy Thanksgiving, Jay

    We are always grateful to hear that you and family are so well

    Best wishes,

    The Copes

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  6. A superb witness to the man, wife, and bemused Babe we count as good neighbors.

  7. Courtenay B. Carella says:

    Thank you!Thank you for your heart, emotion, never-ending observance of all that is whole, good, meaty, soulful.Thank you for noticing.Feeling, expressing all that you feel.How special to take a moment to slow down and be present as you r daughter grows..Time FLIES, flies…and tears rise, as busy daze take up the special space of connection.I’m so glad you find it and it finds you– often and fully…. Happy Thanksgiving, Jay, thanks for your post!

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Courtenay B. Carella 917.520.0331

    Date: Sun, 29 Nov 2015 21:56:35 +0000 To: courtbenedict@hotmail.com

  8. Well said….as always. xot

  9. amen, aaa-men! ❤️

  10. plants4kids says:

    Jay, We agree and appreciate so much, how you express those soulful thoughts and feelings that Brenda and I have inside. With gratitude and love, Brenda and Mark Chipkin

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