November’s Abundant Gifts: Grace, Gratitude, Reverence and Remembrance

 How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one [month] loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

(With gratitude and love to)

November is the month of grace, gratitude, reverence and remembrance.  Four precious weeks to recall how blessed we truly are, even if we don’t particularly feel it at this moment. But November loves the pilgrim soul in you Babe, and longs to erase the fretting from your frazzled face and world-weary heart. 

 To begin with, personally it’s the month my most precious blessing, my darling daughter was born, and she became my greatest Life’s teacher. Formed beneath the depths of my heart, she is the only one on earth to truly know me from the inside out.   Her eyes were the first to reflect back my beauty. She gave me glimpses of a woman I’d never known before. In truth, we gave birth to each other.  But to make her proud, I had to push way out of my comfort zone to become myself and I’m still becoming. I believe it was our karmic pack; a sacred contract.  Ancient wisdom believes that children not yet born choose their parents for the lessons that they need for their souls to grow in this lifetime.  But I think it’s the parents who need the lessons.  I also believe that the oldest and wisest soul in the world belongs to the baby who was just born even as I as I write this. Yes, here’s the Heavenly conversation:  “That one, your Woman down there, she needs to be broken open so that she can fulfill her destiny. She’s got a lot to learn.  Will you help me?”  And the next thing you know, he or she is on the way, straight to your heart and changing everybody’s world.

Life changed in profound ways when I became a Mother, especially after knowing the grief of losing another child before birth, which had happened two years before.  So the best night’s sleep I ever had was the night after Katie Éireann was safely born. I was an older first time mother and my pregnancy had been difficult; I was on bedrest the last eight weeks.  During that time, I kept company with one of the great loves of my life, the Irish poet William Butler Yeats.  We didn’t know whether she was a boy or girl, but if she was a girl I wanted to name the baby “Yeatsie.”  Personally, I don’t believe dead poets should matter to live husbands. But her father would only let me go so far and we agreed on Katherine and then he let me add Éireann as a middle name (even the Gaelic spelling, not realizing that I was naming her after mna na hEireann which means the “Women of Ireland.”) 

When I invoked my first prayer of thanksgiving, I asked for the blessings of the women of Ireland who had gone before, including my cherished Irish Nana.  I prayed for her to be everything I believed I was not:   Brave, beautiful, courageous, compassionate, candid, eloquent, generous, full of Grace, healthy, honorable, passionate, protective, strong, soulful, a storyteller, a woman of wit, wisdom and wry. A wordsmith.  Poet and artist.  But most of all, I prayed for her to be Herself.  There is nothing like holding your baby for the first time, unless it is watching them become a person you so admire that you shake your head in wonder, amazement and gratitude that somehow you were blessed to share their lives. 

Katie Éireann was safely delivered two days before Thanksgiving and I was deeply grateful that she’d been born into a generation of girls who would not be torn apart by the fraught and very raucous feminist movement of the sixties and seventies when the pointed finger wanted to know if you were feminine or a feminist? It was an angry, uncertain and frightening time to be a woman in this country.  But girls born in the eighties had a right to choose the life they wanted to lead—to work, to stay home, to do both, to have control over their own bodies, to love who they loved and to become the woman they were born to be.  What a legacy of love from generations of women who had gone before as true pioneers.

November brings unexpected gifts, too: an extra hour of sleep as we turn the clocks back, even if it’s dark at both ends of bedtime.  Learning to comfort ourselves through Life’s dark moments is the essence of November.  Learning to trust that night must end is a lesson from which none of us get a free pass.  Learning that it is truly darkest before the dawn is not just a scientific fact it is an essential spiritual law.  I wish I could change the curriculum.  I would. There must be a reason I can’t.

Maybe you feel drained, depleted and discouraged today.  Anxious and frightened, too. Maybe you’re frightened for the future to reveal itself and scared for our children’s and grandchildren’s future.  Alarmed for our country and for our earth. But the priceless blessing is that our country is already great and our most precious gift is the right to vote. The Mothers and Fathers who have lost children, the sons and the daughters who have lost parents so that we might vote deserve to be honored and remembered for their courage by our act of reverence, remembrance and bravery at the ballot box.  Don’t throw that gift away, discounting or discarding this freedom because of its superficial packaging.  Choosing not to choose is the ultimate betrayal of yourself and all that you hold dear.  

                                        "Miss Liberty" from Hearst's Magazine, November 1917

                                        "Miss Liberty" from Hearst's Magazine, November 1917

Let’s be real for a moment:  it’s easy to be grateful when life hums—when there’s money in the bank, you’ve got a marvelous job, the romance is divine or your marriage is in one of its sweet phases and you’re healthy and so is your family.  But when you don’t know how the bills will get paid, or he doesn’t love you any longer; when you are reeling from a devastating diagnosis or the dream house which you just finished paying off, has been swept away a once in a century flood deemed “an Act of God” by the insurance company, “thank you” usually isn’t the phrase that immediately comes to mind.

At least it wasn’t for me (or isn’t always—the currents of awareness ebb and flow around here).  But after seeing and knowing the everyday grace of gratitude and the great peace that does “pass all understanding,” I know what I need to do, especially when fortune’s tumultuous cycles of change throw me for a loop.  I must stop focusing on what’s lacking in my life and bring my complete attention to all that I have—the “simple abundance” that surrounds us all.  Small acts of kindness heal even the deepest wounds; savoring fleeting moments of comfort restores serenity; keeping quiet when you want to shout and silently “blessing” what bedevils you is grace under pressure.  

Ironically, I’ve discovered through my own disappointments, that even as I’m falling apart, if I stop for a moment, I notice that it’s gratitude holding me together.  It baffles me, but gratitude’s most powerful mysteries are often revealed when we are struggling in the midst of deep, personal turmoil.  When we stumble in the darkness, rage in anger, hurl faith across the room, abandon all hope.  I've long believed that when we cry ourselves to sleep, gratitude waits patiently at the end of the bed, ready to console and reassure us; there is a landscape larger than the one we can see right now.

We are not the first people to hold our breaths on the edge of an unknown abyss, knowing that something dark has been unleashed upon the world and neither knowing what it is, how to fight it, survive it or overcome it.  In 1919 as the smoke cleared and the catastrophic reality of the first World War was apparent, Yeats wrote one of his most prophetic poems entitled The Second Coming:


             "Windswept" by Margaret Chodos Irvine

             "Windswept" by Margaret Chodos Irvine

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity. 


So being human, we turn away from not just the thought, but the poem and the prayer.  Babe, this is not the day we stop praying.  This is the day we increase them.  So put your head under the pillow or bake a pumpkin pie, but for the love of all that is holy, please vote this Tuesday, November 8th and give thanks for the honor and great privilege of this blessing. 

One month loves the Pilgrim soul in all of us and her name is November.  Over the next few weeks I’ll be reflecting on the courage of our Pilgrim and Pioneer mothers, women who pushed through hell and high water with grace, grit and gumption, the trinity of gratitude, in order to find their place in the world or create a new home on the range. Their legacy of love empowers us to reach deep within to cherish and protect all we hold dear.  May November be a month of grace, gratitude, reverence and remembrance for you. 

Sending you dearest love and a prayer for your peace and plenty.
Blessings on our courage.