2: The Great Thanksgiving Challenge

2: The Great Thanksgiving Challenge

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

The Great Thanksgiving Challenge

I can no other answer make, but, thanks, and thanks.

~William Shakespeare

My friend Marilyn and I had just settled into a booth at our favorite coffee shop. “BookTalk is at my house next month,” I said. “I hate getting ready for it.”

“I know what you mean,” Marilyn answered. “I spent a week cleaning when it was my turn in February, not to mention baking two cakes.”

“Not to mention that it’s all over in a couple of hours. All that work for two hours!”

Marilyn nodded as we sipped from steaming cups of latte.

“And if that’s not bad enough,” I said, wiping foam from my upper lip, “my entire family is coming for Thanksgiving this year. I love them dearly, but you know what that means?”

“Yep. Cooking and cleaning, changing sheets, wondering what to feed everybody for breakfast. I go through the same thing every year.”

The chimes on the coffee shop door jingled and a bedraggled woman entered, carrying two super-sized shopping bags stuffed with odds and ends. Twists of gray hair escaped from the ratty scarf covering her head. Nothing she wore matched, and one black canvas high top had a hole at the big toe. As she passed us, it was evident she hadn’t bathed in days.

“Would you listen to us?” I whispered, feeling ashamed of myself. “We sound like two ungrateful curmudgeons.”

“That poor woman probably can’t pay for a cup of coffee.”

“Do you think she’s homeless?” I asked.

Marilyn shrugged her shoulders. Then she grabbed her wallet, and headed for the counter where she paid for the woman’s coffee and an apple fritter. The woman smiled, showing bad teeth. I heard Marilyn invite her to join us, but the woman shook her head and settled into a soft chair in a sunlit corner of the shop.

“That was nice,” I said when Marilyn slid back into the booth.

She rolled her eyes. “That was guilt.”

I nibbled a piece of chocolate biscotti. “You know something? Some days, all I do is complain.”

“Me, too.”

“Take BookTalk for instance. Those women are smart and funny. I’m honored they asked me to join the club. The last thing I should do is complain about having them come to my house for a few hours.”

Marilyn glanced at the woman thumbing through a tattered People magazine. “I don’t know why I always see the glass half empty when it’s more than half full,” she said.

“We should stop complaining — it’s a bad habit.” I said this with more conviction than I felt.

Marilyn set her cup down just as a megawatt smile broke over her face.

“What?” I asked.

When Marilyn gets that look, it always means some bold plan has taken hold of her brain — usually one that includes me.

“We’ll give it up. Complaining. We’ll give it up for Thanksgiving.”

“You mean Lent. That’s months away.”

“No — I mean we’ll stop complaining and start being thankful. Just in time for Thanksgiving. It takes thirty days to drop a habit and thirty days to start a new one.”

“So what’s your plan?”

Marilyn leaned back and crossed her arms. “A challenge. We’ll keep a diary. Write down every complaint. Then think of something to be thankful for, and write that down too.”

“What if we can’t think of something to be thankful for?”

Marilyn pointed to the old woman who had fallen asleep in her chair. “You can think of something.”

“Then how will we know we’re really keeping track? It would be easy to cheat.”

Marilyn stuck out her little finger. Now it was my turn to roll my eyes. Pinky swear. We’d been doing it since junior high.

“Challenge accepted,” I said.

Thanksgiving Day was a month and a half away. Could we really drop a bad habit by then? And replace it with a new one?

The next morning I poured my cereal and picked up the milk carton only to discover it was empty.

“I can’t eat cereal without milk,” I muttered. Then I caught myself, not believing the first words out of my mouth that day took the form of a complaint.

“Great,” I said, talking to the cat. “Can’t even start the day right.”

And there it was: complaint number two.

“This is going to be harder than I thought,” I said, searching the desk shelves for a notebook. “Why can’t I ever find what I need when I need it?”

Welcome to my world, complaints three and four.

I grabbed the phone and dialed Marilyn’s number.

“What’s up?” she asked, way too perky for early morning.

“I’ve been awake fifteen minutes and all I’ve done is complain,” I complained. “This is hard!”

“No kidding. Jim forgot to make the coffee last night — his job — and I had to wait ten minutes for the pot to brew.”

“Did you write that down?”

Marilyn laughed. “Can’t find a notebook.”

“Neither can I!”

“Okay — quick — what are you thankful for?” she asked.

“I’m talking on the phone with my best friend and the cat is purring in my lap. What about you?”

“I’m drinking coffee in a warm kitchen and about to go work out,” Marilyn answered. “See? This won’t be so hard after all.”

But it was hard. Hard to believe I complained so much about trivial things. Hard to believe I wasn’t more thankful for my family, my friends, and my health. My mind kept wandering back to the homeless woman, and I caught myself saying little prayers for her.

BookTalk met at my house the first week of November. In preparation, I cleaned and cooked and complained. But I recorded the blessings, too: my husband cheerfully moved furniture to accommodate thirty women; the cheesecakes I baked were perfect; my friends in the book club complimented my beautiful home — and I realized they were right.

As weeks passed, I noticed my notebook recorded more blessings than complaints. Marilyn reported the same phenomenon. That’s not to say we didn’t complain — we did. Just not as much. Maybe the complaints dwindled because we realized we had so much to be thankful for.

The Monday after Thanksgiving, Marilyn and I met for coffee again, comparing stories of the holiday weekend and sharing what we’d written in the pages of our notebooks.

“It’s interesting,” Marilyn said. “I don’t complain as much now. And when I do, the complaints sound more like problem statements than whining.”

“I feel better about myself, too. And about life in general.” I took a sip of creamy latte. “I guess we owe that homeless woman a bushel of gratitude, don’t we?”

“Yeah,” Marilyn said. “We sure do.”

~Ruth Jones

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