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Lara Patangan considers what gratitude is really all about—and how it's not something you can buy at Pottery Barn.

It’s easy to look at holidays like Thanksgiving through the sepia-toned lens of nostalgia and envision doe-eyed families in warm embraces and wonder why the picture of your family sometimes looks like a dysfunctional diorama of disaster instead of a page out of a Pottery Barn catalog. The mute lifeless images of a burning hearth, spice-scented candles, and tables set with garlands of leaves, vases of burnt-colored flowers, and tiny rectangles of card-stock with cursive names set adjacent to origami-shaped napkins in gold leaf-embossed rings suggest people like me are doing something wrong.

As the annual host of my family’s Thanksgiving, I send a group text the Sunday night before the big holiday and ask everyone what they are bringing. We push two picnic tables together in the backyard and set up another folding table with mismatched chairs. Because I am fancy and I read my mom’s discarded issues of Southern Living magazine, I cover the tables with tablecloths and do my best to make some kind of centerpiece out of what I can find in the yard or lanterns that I keep in the garage. I buy paper plates that look like china with complementing cutesy paper napkins, and I congratulate myself on my hosting skills.

It's easy to think of gratitude as only the shiny and beautiful things in life—the pretty pictures and perfect settings. The prestigious titles, gifted children, and magazine-perfect houses—any of the colorful accolades or achievements that we can fan like prize turkeys are easily recognized as blessings. But genuine abiding gratitude, the kind that sustains us through loss, disappointment, and failure, isn’t showy so much as it is sturdy. It’s the kind of gratitude we cultivate by noticing the way big things appear small like the simplicity of a goodnight kiss or how the hungry feel after a hot meal no matter how mediocre it tastes. It’s gratitude the person on the street feels for the shelter of a cardboard box. It’s the gratitude the grieving feels to have loved so deeply; the lonely feel for the person who for a moment made them feel seen; or that the young person feels for someone who made them feel accepted.

Sturdy gratitude recognizes how the mundanity of housework is meaningful. It understands that serving others is a gift to ourselves. It sees how the dullest days can be made beautiful through an act of kindness. This type of gratitude is gritty and often quiet enough to miss if we aren’t paying attention. It’s the blue flame of our deepest prayers that recognizes that the superficial is just smoke and mirrors. It’s less like to be captured in a glossy catalog than in the chaos of a kitchen with its foil-covered casseroles, store-bought pies, and diverse guests who remind us that differences can be something to be grateful for too.


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Genuine abiding gratitude, the kind that sustains us through loss, disappointment, and failure, isn’t showy so much as it is sturdy. #catholicmom


Gratitude isn’t something to recognize for just a day or even a month. It’s something to feel in the busy; the messy, and especially in the hard. It’s less perfection and more picnic tables and paper plates. For that, I’m thankful.



Copyright 2022 Lara Patangan
Images: Canva