grace, ambiguity & gratitude

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, the beautiful autumn celebration of communion, food and giving thanks. Many of you will be gathering with friends and family over sumptuous feasts and lively conversation. Some of you will be traveling, enduring icy roads or TSA pat downs to reach your waiting loved ones. I will be nestled into my apartment. My boys (Emmett, age 17 and Enzo, age 13) will be with their father, and the three of them are attending a soiree at the home of family friends. I have a good book to read and plenty of football to watch. If I choose, I can turn on the Macy’s parade or, if I choose, I can sleep the day away. Um, I have a small day tomorrow. There was a time, fifteen or so years ago, that I could have never imagined spending a holiday apart from my kids or, even more, that one of them, by his own choosing, would not be living with me at all. But as I push up here close to fifty years old, I can say that there are a lot of things in life that don’t look like I thought they would; there are things that didn’t play out exactly as I’d planned. However, this is all OK. If I’ve learned anything from my time kicking around on this planet, especially the past few years, it is how to live with ambiguity.

In our culture, we are groomed from a very early age to believe in a certain predictable trajectory and linear flow to our lives. When we get out of high school, we go to college. When we graduate from college, we get a job. If we do X, then Y will happen. If we work hard, then we will be successful. In my own experience, however, life is a lot messier than that. Motherhood, writing and singing jazz are all over the map. Sometimes for me, X hasn’t always led to Y, in fact, often quite the opposite. I’ve launched rockets that have crashed and burned just beats after lift-off. I’ve slaved for months and poured every ounce of my DNA into certain projects that have resulted in only anemic success. I’ve gone “all in” in some situations and have lost the prize completely. But these are not necessarily failures. Sometimes when my focus is on one thing, an unexpected and completely unrelated opportunity presents itself. I have stood in a garden of dying vegetables only to marvel at the glorious, errant dahlia that seemed to spring out of nowhere. In paddling away from sinking ships, I’ve often picked up new skills I might not have otherwise. I am not saying there’s always a silver lining. What I’m saying is that we never know for sure. At best, perhaps life is cyclical. Gigs are a great example of that. Some months, I’m working every weekend and long for a night when I don’t have to get dressed for a gig or be anyplace at a certain time. Other months, the calendar is sparse and I’m left wondering if my jazz career has dried up for good. The picture is rarely clear. I am not one of those people that believe “everything happens for a reason.” I also don’t believe in God, at least not as a supreme entity with a playbook. I just know that long held assumptions and Hallmark cards are unreliable metrics for the quality of our lives. Yes, some of us will indeed enjoy a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving. However, others of us will nibble on Trader Joe’s hummus while our own children gather around tables in other places with other people.

I guess the question is this: Can we hold all the imperfection and unknowns and still be grateful? My answer? You bet we can. In fact, it is an opportunity, for me anyway, to redefine success and modify my expectations of life and the world around me. It is a wonderful (and daily) invitation to get down to the nitty gritty and be with things as they are. Right here and right now, I can easily rattle off a list of things that I am grateful for: I’m grateful for the warm and cozy apartment that I have to hole up in. I’m grateful for Monday’s big snowstorm and the magical walk that my boys and I took at 10 o’clock that night. I am grateful for the opportunity to write, work and sing and for the kind people  who lend friendly hands and enduring support along the way. I am grateful for my friend Wally and for all the ways she makes me laugh. I am grateful for my siblings as we stumble through the difficult situation of caring for our very uncooperative 84-year-old mother, who seems hellbent on putting herself in harm’s way. As hard as it is sometimes, I am grateful just to be here. Life is certainly imperfect, but it is working. If I can find even the tiniest sparkle of grace in the midst of a messy life, then that in and of itself is something to be grateful for.

With that, I wish you all a “Happy Thanksgiving,” in whatever form it takes for you.  Here’s to love, music, friends and the poignant beauty of all that remains to be seen.


“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”

– Gilda Radner