Many nations around the world have versions of a holiday focused on gratitude, and this week Americans will celebrate our national Thanksgiving holiday.
Depending on how you celebrate, it can be a chaotic long weekend of travel and stress. But regardless of what I do with family or friends, I usually take some quiet time alone in late November to focus on what I’m grateful for in my life during this season of giving thanks. I’ve never considered myself to be ungrateful for the good in my life, but I realize that I do take some things for granted in the busy-ness of day-to-day life. I have a family that loves me. I have friends who love me. I’ve got a sweet kitty who curls up next to me each night. I have a lovely little house, a reliable car, and neighbors who watch out for me. I have my health. What in the world can I legitimately complain about? Nothing.
And since I’m fortunate enough to have a comfortable life, I feel that I have an obligation to do what I can to make the world a better place. One of my favorite quotes is this one from Jane Goodall:
I often think of it when I wonder if I’m making a difference or when I doubt the relevance of my work. Last week I was given an honor that has made me realize that I actually am making a difference with regard to my efforts to open people’s minds about insects. (You had to know I’d find a way to insert insects into this post, right?)
For the past five years I’ve served on the board of Toledo Naturalists’ Association (TNA), in the positions of publicity chair, then programming chair, and then as president. But I had to resign from the presidency earlier this year when my depression and anxiety got out of hand and I couldn’t cope with all of my volunteer commitments. I was distraught over the decision to leave the board, and felt that I’d let everyone down. Even worse, I’d been excited at the prospect of leading the organization into our 90th year celebration in 2023, so I was sad about giving up my leadership position. I was disappointed to have hit this stumbling block in my otherwise happy life, and disappointed in myself for not being able to continue on.
So imagine my shock when I got a call a few weeks ago telling me that the TNA board wanted to present me with their Naturalist of the Year award. While I knew that I’d put my heart and soul into my work for the organization, the little negative voice in my head had convinced me that they would shun me because I’d abandoned ship. Thankfully I was wrong and they were all very kind to me at the banquet last week when I was presented with the award. (People tell me that I judge myself too harshly, and I think that’s quite often true.) I’d been telling myself a story about 2022 being one of the worst years of my life (because of my health problems), but now I feel things are turning around. It’s amazing what an uplifting experience it can be to have your friends and colleagues acknowledge that you make a difference and that you are respected.
That experience has caused me to double down on my efforts to uplift other people, because everyone deserves to feel what I’m feeling now. So I spent an evening this weekend writing some thank you notes — on actual cards to go in the mail! Those are so much more gratifying to receive than an email, don’t you think? I had fun choosing which insect card would go to each person (yes, I have a bunch of beautiful caterpillar cards from The Caterpillar Lab.) After I wrote some to TNA board members, I also wrote some to a few other people who are important in my life. I don’t usually send holiday cards, but from time to time I like to send a simple note to make sure someone knows that they’ve made an impact on my life. That’s my way of reminding myself to be grateful for them as well.
I hope you have some time to be mindful of the blessings in your own life, and that we all remember to take the opportunity to lift others up whenever we can, whether we’re family, friends, or total strangers. You never know how your simple gesture might impact someone’s life.
And before I go, apropos of nothing, here’s a lovely caterpillar for you. 🙂
If you’d like to see more art by the talented Ann Geise, please check out her website here.