Paper Turkey Feathers

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“I thought you were going to tell me things would look better in the morning or something. I was preparing to murder you.”

- The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

I despise the thankful lists. Maybe it’s because I filled out one too many construction paper feathers for the turkeys in elementary school. Maybe it’s because I learned it was the obligatory way to end any prayer, because after you’ve asked for a bunch of crap, you best be telling God, if you know what’s good for you, that you do notice at least some of what he’s already given you. Or maybe it’s because the thankful lists start to come across as standardized forms where you check the boxes before family, faith, health, food, friends and home. In small print at the bottom the form reads: To maintain your likability, be sure to leave no box left unchecked.

November rolls around and you might as well get yourself a whole paper pad of these forms. You’re going to need them to prove you have a heartbeat.

For all the angst and disgust and bristling I feel towards the thankful lists, don’t let me fool you. I am a softy. One Thanksgiving I wrote a personal note on the wall of all of my Facebook friends because I was feeling so incredibly grateful for their presence in my life. And this year, I did add a few extra entries on my kindergartener’s paper turkey feather that we were to fill out as a family because I got caught up in the moment. I even pleaded with him to turn it in, even though it was a day late.

I think the heart of my issue with thankfulness is I don’t like being told I must feel good about something. Some things simply do not feel good. I have to have a chance to catch the hard of something before I can ever hope to release with ease. I usually make my way there, but good gawd don’t rob me of the process just because we both know where I “need” to end up.

I have a co-worker who throws out overused and highly sarcastic hashtags into normal everyday conversation. He used to say “hashtag blessed” or “hashtag be blessed.” His newest one? “Hashtag tripleblessed.” I appreciate the humor because it feels like it shoots an arrow straight to the heart of what I so despise about a so-called put together life because some nimrod decided to create a standardized form for gratefulness and some other nimrod decided to be sure to check them all.

After an incredibly long weekend to which I successfully made it to the end of, I collapsed into my bed feeling ever so grateful for its coziness. Minutes after falling asleep all hell broke loose. My dog started whining. My daughter had a night terror. I stepped in something wet on the carpet. My daughter accidentally shattered a soap dish.

Eventually I made an uncomfortable “nest” out of dirty laundry on the floor of my daughter’s room (who was so scared she begged me not to leave) and I willed myself to hug her, to touch her, to cuddle her, to comfort her. But I couldn’t. I felt like a lousy mom; I just couldn’t summon the energy to give her anything more than my snarly presence.

It was then the thankful list started pouring out of me. I’m not sure I was using the word thankful in my head at the time, but the sentiment was certainly that of extreme gratefulness.

  • I am thankful I got up for her, while everyone else in the home just kept sleeping.
  • I am thankful I feel soft about her fear, soft enough to know it is not as easy as saying, “Snap out of it and pull yourself together.” (Even if that is exactly what I wish would work).
  • I am thankful I have learned how to sit in dark places, even when I can’t fix anything.
  • I am thankful for clothes to rest my head on and a blanket to keep me warm.
  • I am thankful that we went to therapy and we have some options to help her with her anxiety.
  • I am thankful for fans that cool her down.
  • I am thankful my dog wants to sleep with her and cuddle close to her.
  • I am thankful that I alone get to have this moment with her, even if I am cranky and she is wide-eyed and trembly.
  • I am thankful for a towel close by to throw on top of whatever was wet on the carpet.
  • I am thankful I don’t have to work tomorrow.
  • I am thankful I get more sleep at night than I used to when we had babies.
  • I am thankful for lavendar oil.

Though I was still annoyed, my thankful list that night would have been far too substantial to fit on just one construction paper turkey feather.

The thankful list wasn’t forced. It wasn’t obligatory. It wasn’t standardized.

It came on its own accord because I didn’t want to make myself feel worse about an already incredibly difficult situation. It came as relief. It came softly. It came as unique and intimate and poignant. It came as a release after a catch in my gut.

My thankful lists have to sneak up on me, and they have to taste of a moment never yet explored and never again visited.

“Did you come here to tell me to count my blessings, Felipe? Am I supposed to be inspired?…Your task then is to shame me for making such a fuss. For wallowing in self-pity.”

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell


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Mandy Steward is an artist and writer who is currently in the thrilling throes of making belief. Meanwhile, she invites you to join in one or all of her WONDER-full trifecta Advent plans that consist of going dark, art journaling and showing up EXPECTANTly.

2 thoughts on “Paper Turkey Feathers

  1. <3 I love the honesty of this post. I hate thankful lists almost as much as I loathe having to recant my thankfulness around the table. It's not that I'm not thankful-it's that I resent being told when to be thankful, what to be thankful for, and then forced to recite it like some wind-up toy. Thank you so much for this post. It's nice to know I'm not alone.

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