Warning, this post was inspired by a pumpkin. More on that later.
As another Thanksgiving weekend wraps up, I’m filled with a wide range of emotions. I was happy to have had the kids home for an extended period of time and now sad that they have all started to head back to school. I’m filled with some Christmas joy after having spent some time doing some in-person shopping yesterday but saddened by the fact I’m leaving town for the better part of this coming week for an offsite meeting in Ohio. All that being said, the greatest feeling I have right now is one of gratitude. I’m grateful for a newfound ability to find joy in small things, for the downtime I’ve had this week and the ability to spend that time with my family, and for a healed foot which has allowed me to spend outdoors doing something I love to do—run!
I wasn’t always able to find joy in small things. I’ll admit to being caught up in the false promise of “stuff.” I never had enough of what I wanted and thought that the acquisition of material items meant I was doing things right; that these were outside signs I was “making it.” I never realized that I had all of what I needed inside me including love, patience, and compassion, and that these three gifts could carry me through any rough patch than a better car, fancy gym membership, and new clothes ever could. There is one person who helped me realize this and, unfortunately, he isn’t with us physically anymore, but I still feel his presence in my life daily—my brother Greg.
I was watching a cooking show (The Pioneer Woman) with my daughter this morning and shared with her how my brother Greg loved to watch cooking shows (and nature shows, and The X-Files) and she said, “That’s because they are very relaxing.” I agree, they are, but for Greg it was not just relaxing to watch a TV chef do what they do, but also a way to learn something new and to connect with a passion. He took so much joy in cooking for all of us, nourishing us, and when he made a meal and enjoyed it with you, those around the table weren’t just feeding their bodies, but also their souls. He’d take a night in with loved ones over a night out any day of the week.
Greg also found joy in tending to his garden, where he was careful to create an environment where birds, particularly hummingbirds, felt safe coming for a visit (and snack, this was Greg afterall). Those of you familiar with Tim McGraw may know that song “Live like you were dying,” in which the McGraw, through the character of someone who has just been diagnosed with cancer, sings:
“I became a friend a friend would like to have
And all of a sudden going fishin’
Wasn’t such an imposition
And I went three times that year I lost my dad
Well I, I finally read the Good Book, and I
Took a good, long, hard look
At what I’d do if I could do it all again”
Of course McGraw also does go on to sing about “Going skydiving, Rocky Mountain climbing, and going 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu,” but the essence of this beautiful song is about doing simple things with the time you have left. It’s about sharing the joy inside you with those around you and watching as that joy spreads like a vine.
Speaking of vines, this is probably a good time to talk about the pumpkin that inspired me this morning. Yesterday, my sister in law, Carolyn, gave me three gifts that I will treasure forever; a white pumpkin, some pumpkin seeds, and a letter. The pumpkin and seeds have a bit of a backstory that can only be described as miraculous.
My brother was diagnosed with lung cancer in August of 2020 and to say we were all shocked is an understatement. He wasn’t a smoker, exercised regularly, and ate very cleanly. There was nothing about his lifestyle that anyone could point to and say, “Well his cancer was likely a result of_____.” It was a mystery. That Fall, the family bought a pumpkin and wrote all the things they were grateful for and this became their gratitude pumpkin. This is where the miraculous part comes in—that pumpkin survived intact, outside, until June of 2023. No critters got to it, it didn’t decompose, it persevered through cold Connecticut winters, wet Springs, and hot Summers, as did Greg. Most harvested pumpkins only last 1-3 months—this one survived for three years. It only started to crumble after my brother passed away. Talk about a great pumpkin—a great Greg pumpkin!
Carolyn planted the seeds of this pumpkin and grew a few more, one of which is on my kitchen island and now our family has our own gratitude pumpkin. The seeds she gave me are the seeds from the original pumpkin, which we will plant in the summer to grow our own great Greg Pumpkins.
Yesterday, Carolyn also gave me a personal letter expressing her gratitude for some of the things that our family has done over the past six months including making meals, spending time with their girls, and some other things that are too personal to share here. While her words brought more than a few tears to my eyes, they were what I needed to read yesterday. As someone who gives a lot of his time to others, I can’t tell you how much it meant to have my actions, both big and small, recognized as something that had a positive impact on others. For as much as we should give of ourselves without expecting anything in return, her expression of gratitude filled my joy tank up beyond its limit. Thank you so much, Carolyn, for that recognition.
While I will think about my brother every day for as long as I live, I’m ever so grateful for the lessons he taught me through his actions, particularly when times were hardest for him. Finding joy in ordinary things, spending time with those you love, and expressing gratitude for those who have helped you are at the top of that list. I’m also grateful for having the opportunity to be with him during his final moments and for any opportunity I have to spend time with his our family whenever I can.
Advent is now upon us and no doubt many of us will be tempted to start to worry about “getting it all done” between now and Christmas Day. Maybe, though, we can reframe what “getting it all done” means. Let’s focus less on worrying about whether we’ve purchased the “right” gifts for all of those on our list, getting the decorations “just right,” and obsessing over the perfect tree. I’m not saying those things aren’t important, I am suggesting, though, that it’s easy to forget what this season is all about. I’m going to take a page out of Greg’s playbook and spend it finding joy in “small” things. Which, If I think about it, are really the big things.