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Practicing Gratitude, for a Change

I walked back into the room and lounged on the sofa, nursing my coffee gloomily.

“It’s only a day,” my aunt reminded me.

But what was Thanksgiving without the tumble and chaos of preparing a meal for a hodgepodge of people you loved? Sometimes the gratitude I felt once we were all gathered over dinner was the mere fact that we’d been able to pull it off, in spite of all the heralding clatter: highway traffic, green beans wilted and turkeys undone.

I imagined my children celebrating with their father’s family: football on the television, their uncle’s mashed potatoes and apple pie on the table. That they would have that consistency offered me bittersweet consolation — even, it seems, a spot of relief. I texted my 10-year-old daughter and asked if she wanted to say hi over FaceTime, and she did. She told me she missed me before passing her phone to her younger brothers, who were 8 and 4. The image on my phone flickered from one of their faces to the next, and then to the ceiling. I felt nauseated.

Did I want to talk to anyone else in Dad’s family?, my older son asked.

“That’s O.K., buddy,” I replied, smiling and shaking my head.

It was time to let them go.

I was still recovering from all the fragments of change scattered in my wake — my ex-husband and I were no longer together, and that itself was right and good. In that marriage, I had felt as if I had to be on, all the time, responsible for everyone else’s needs to the point where I could not attend to my own. No wonder I had always enjoyed the opportunity to escape into my aunt’s life, where freedom reigned.

But I was beginning to feel certain that in that year of transition, the sadness I felt over what had been lost was indeed a temporary hold. After all, I still had time laid out before me, and the will to fill it wisely.

As we went back to the buffet with clean plates for dessert, I perused the offerings — coconut cake, pecan pie and Boston cream. These were lovely, but they weren’t mine. Next year, I thought, I wasn’t sure how, but things would be different. With that, I was roused by a deep and promising sense of gratitude, for whatever was to come.

Samantha Shanley is working on a memoir.

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