Heidi Isern

writer. thinker. whiskey drinker.

Unconventional Gratitude…from Razor Blades to Wrinkles

Every Thanksgiving we Americans pause, go around the table laden with caloric tradition, and say what we are grateful for.  Usually this includes something like “My adoring friends and family”, “My wonderful career”, and of course some embarrassed admission that we can afford much more food than we can possibly consume.

Instead of creating an ode to mashed potatoes, what if we gave gratitude to things that profoundly challenged or changed us?  Below are a few starters…


1. The Homeless

Every holiday thousands of people volunteer to help out at soup kitchens, confident that the homeless are grateful for our work. But how many times have we thanked them for what they have given us in return? I recently met a young man who moved here from Italy. He told me that if it were not for the homeless he wouldn’t have learned English.  “When I arrived I didn’t really speak and no one was patient with me. My accent was too strong and my salary was too low to afford proper English classes.” One night after buying a few pizza slices, he gave them out to homeless men on the street and started talking. “They laughed and then helped me, teaching me words. They kept repeating things until I got them.” He went back every night to share pizza, talk and learn. ” I remember when I went into the office and greeted my boss with “Hey buddy how’s it hanging?” The Italian finally felt integrated in the American community.

 2. Razor Blades

Self mutilation is hardly the stuff of Thanksgiving day blogs, even if it is metaphorical in reference. But I admit it–I regularly cut myself with self doubt.  Before you reprimand me for a dirty habit, think again. I’m grateful for painful self awareness because it is how I regenerate to become better. In politically correct California we are intoxicated on positive thinking and rarely say (or think) the negative. Thankfully, my design firm upholds both high standards and constant (critical) feedback. My writing group echoes the same practice and rips apart everything I write, my bad metaphors left to die under red corrective ink.  After my ego has been properly hacked away at, I then take over, finishing the work with razor like precision, cutting away the bad parts so that the light can shine through. After a day of destruction, both and I my writing emerge anew, ready to reconstruct a more beautiful picture. If we didn’t allow the pain of sharp critique, I worry we’d never become any better.  I’m grateful for it.

 3. My Grandfather’s Last Words

I grew up traversing the globe like a pirate as my family moved from place to place. I spent just as much time making friends as I did leaving them. However, my mother made sure we went back to our homeland every year. “At least you will know your grandparents,” she said. My Montanan grandparents became close to me and lovingly watched me stumble through life. When cancer ate away at my Grandfather, he choose his last words to me carefully.  He didn’t say “It will all be okay, you’ll do well.” What he said was, “Heidi, you’re made of steel. Know that.”

Damnit, I’m so grateful for these words, permanently etched in my mind. Sometime things are NOT okay. But if he thinks I’m made of steel, I’ll prove him right.

 4. Aging

Just a year ago I was plagued with age neuroses.  I was so afraid of the changes time had on my body that I wanted leap up to the master clock, impale myself on the hour hand and force it back to remove the years. Youth is beauty and beauty seemed crucial to my Raison d’être.  However, a young, beautiful body is also a vehicle of tragedy (more on that later) and often limits our true potential.  We get both judged and side tracked by the external – all forgetting that our true essence is in our minds. As I get older, I get less cat calls, but I also have more in depth conversations. I look fondly at the crow’s feet starting to grace my eyes, grateful for their existence.  In many ways, they have freed me. I can focus on my insides now.

5. Insignificance 

The ocean makes me feel insignificant. Its depth and might can erase my life in one crashing wave. In the past six years of surfing, I’ve had my fair share of near death wipeouts and once even had my head cut open by a wayward fin.  Why do I go back?  It teaches me patience. It humbles me. It encourages me to embrace the unpredictable.  Plus I am reminded that life is fleeting and we are one small speck in its continuum. This feeling of insignificance erases any entitlement and makes me appreciate everything that is given to me-especially a glassy, rolling 5 footer.

As I head off to the ocean today, I’ll bow to the sea and thank it for allowing me the honor to ride it once again.

“Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving.” 
― W.T. Purkiser

2 Discussions on
“Unconventional Gratitude…from Razor Blades to Wrinkles”
  • Wonderfully written Heidi. Let’s push our boundaries of gratitude each day, peering beneath the surface of obvious to see where all of life’s gifts exist should we choose to see them as such.

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