Regular readers of this column know that each year in January I share highlights from my gratitude journal from the past twelve months. I started keeping a gratitude journal several years ago after learning that it represents one of several simple steps that research has found will make us happier and more fulfilled. I have certainly found that to be the case. Gratitude has become a habit; I look for reasons to be grateful and take less for granted. Even on a bad day, I can find cause for gratitude. In addition, in Broadcasting Happiness, Michelle Gielan '96, our 2017 graduation speaker, argues for the power of sharing positive stories. Among other types, "stories that showcase the things in life we are grateful for . . . . are what truly create and strengthen bonds between people and shift a culture to positive, causing levels of well-being to skyrocket" (201).
Some aspects of my life win my gratitude repeatedly. For example, I am always grateful for my husband who supports me in so many ways – from doing errands and cooking, driving untold hours (often in terrible traffic) to our house on Block Island or to visit our son at college in Upstate New York; taking me to the airport; sending me flowers on special occasions; attending any number of school-related events; filling the tires on my bicycle; building fires; and, this year, taking care of me through my hip replacement surgery.
On our son's birthday, my journal entry reads, "For his being born 21 years ago – the greatest gift I've ever received." I'm grateful for time we spend together, especially when he takes me out for lunch, and for our weekly conversations when he's at school. I'm grateful when he feels fulfilled and successful as he did this summer living in Cambridge, MA, with his godfather's family – to whom I was very grateful -- and working in a marine biology lab and at a poke restaurant. I was grateful when a medical scare proved unfounded.
I often gave thanks for visits with my extended family and for conversations with my brother, my sister-in-law, and most especially with nieces. We all always spend Thanksgiving together and on that occasion I was grateful for "family and commitment to family," for families only stay connected when everyone is committed to the family as an entity worthy of the effort it takes. This year, we successfully freed ourselves from an Escape Room within the allotted time without killing each other or permanently damaging relationships – surely an achievement worthy of gratitude!
Friends also frequently provided a source of gratitude. We and another couple have a subscription to Arena Stage, and I always enjoy the productions and our pre-theatre dinners together. We also had friends visit both here in Bethesda and on Block Island, and enjoyed sojourns to Hull, MA and Skytop, PA. My fortieth (eek!) high school reunion made me grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with old friends. Among our younger friends are former students, and I was especially grateful that Rob and I were asked to be godparents to a little girl born to one of those special young women.
Of course, people associated with school also provided reason for gratitude. I was grateful to Holton's Board of Trustees, individually and collectively: for their leadership, support, insight, and wisdom. In many ways, last school year was very difficult, and I was grateful to work with such wise, compassionate colleagues who always put students first. I was also grateful for all the ways teachers nurture our students' talents and passions. In particular, as we mark Director of Fine and Performing Arts Mary Jane Pagenstecher's lasts – last Cathedral Choral Concert, last Winter Choral Concert – I expressed gratitude for all that she has given to Holton, and most especially to her students, over the past 26 years, an impact attested to by the large number of alumnae who returned for the Winter Concert (and I gave thanks for that tribute to her). I gave thanks for the organizers of enlightening and thought-provoking professional development activities, for the advancement and facilities staffs who make our many events such a consistent success, and to the admissions staff for a record-breaking year. I was also grateful for successful meetings related to the capital campaign, particularly when donors made financial commitments to the school for that generosity will define Holton's future. I was grateful for our many parent volunteers – parent association leadership as well as those who made the Premiere Party come to life, organized Armoire, or spoiled us with Sweet Treats, the end-of-year brunch, and the smorgasbord of the faculty-staff appreciation lunch, and, of course, to all who so generously shared their heritages at Mosaic. Finally, I am perennially grateful for my assistant, Janice DeMaré, without whom I simply couldn't do my job.
I regularly expressed gratitude for the administrators, faculty, parents, and students who assisted with our two division director searches as well as for the outcomes of those processes, the community's positive responses to the choices, and for the good work that both Upper School Director Chris Lynch and Middle School Director Nichole Foster-Hinds have been doing since assuming their new positions. This fall we have similarly been engaged in the search for a new Director of Fine and Performing Arts (to be concluded soon) which has prompted similar expressions of gratitude on my part.
I was often grateful for my dear advisees as well as other students. I was grateful for their artwork; for the music they share at concerts; for the plays they, under the direction of their talented faculty, put on -- The Canterville Ghost, The Crucible, Lion King, Jr, The Wiz and Comedy of Errors – all fabulous. I appreciated the creativity they showcased at Coffee House and PUNCH. I was grateful when I had time to watch games, when teams prevailed, and when Holton won championships which swimming, crew, tennis, volleyball, and cross country teams all did in the last twelve months. I was grateful for the Columbia Scholastic Press Association's continued recognition of Scroll/Scrolling; for our It's Academic team winning their first round this fall; and for the inspiring speeches students delivered at Convocation and the Thanksgiving Assembly. On the fifth grade trip to Mount Vernon last March, I was grateful for the girls' attentiveness and for the opportunity to spend time with them. I was grateful to The Happiness Club for organizing the Puppy Party, to which students and adults brought their dogs for people to play with; it definitely succeeded in making people happy!
On the non-school front, we enjoyed fabulously fun weekends in Nashville and New York. During the latter, we saw Hamilton, ate terrific food, stayed in a luxurious hotel, and visited with friends and family all thanks to the Board's generosity in recognizing my ten-year anniversary at Holton. You can imagine that I was grateful beyond words for all that! I was grateful to friends who invited us to two terrific concerts: Bonnie Raitt and James Taylor and Bruno Mars and to others who shared Caps tickets with us on several occasions.
Many of you know how much I cherish our time on Block Island, the natural beauty of the island, paddle-boarding and kayaking, swimming in the ocean, dancing on the beach, walks with the dogs, and stunning sunsets. One day, I was grateful for getting very close to a Great Blue Heron. I am so grateful for the all the time we've spent in that beautiful place, and while I'm sad, I'm also grateful that someone is buying our house and that we're moving on to a new adventure somewhere more accessible (Tropical Storm Jose almost marooned Rob on Block Island, very nearly preventing him from making the Hamilton curtain – you know I was grateful he made it!).
Whether at home or on Block Island, I am grateful for time to read, and this year I especially appreciated Jane Eyre which I had never read and LOVED! I also treasure time to knit; I continued making jewelry, tried metal stamping, and took up rock painting – I gave thanks for time for all these activities as well as for dying Easter eggs and making a dust ruffle and curtains. I also often expressed appreciation for good food – steamers; fresh peas, radishes, and tomatoes from Rob's garden; pizza or sushi; sweet local strawberries (and strawberry shortcake) from the Bethesda Farmers Market (this Sunday event represented a new discovery for which I was often grateful – I have no idea how we've missed it all these years); one time my gratitude extended to leftover mac & cheese.
Perhaps it's perfect to end on something as mundane as leftovers. In a year when I was grateful for every good report regarding my brother's cancer, when the world suffered from senseless violence and devastating natural disasters, finding reasons to be grateful – even about, or maybe most of all about leftovers, helps keep me positive and valuing all my myriad blessings.