Impure Gratitude, by Emily Whitman

It's Thanksgiving, time to go around the table and say what we're grateful for, and I find myself balking. Those moments of clear, unadulterated, welcoming joy that I think of as pure gratitude are rare things. My father didn't die on that operating table. That sunset is absurdly, heart-openingly beautiful.

Maybe gratitude is more achievable if we don't need it to be pure and absolute. Let's call it impure gratitude, or sullied gratitude--thankfulness that's no less thankful for being complicated by the mix of emotions also known as life.

For example, I'm grateful for my parents. I'm especially grateful that they've lived long enough for me to get past some of the crap I carried around for so long. My gratitude is tangled up with guilt for the ways I made distance, and sadness for needing to; with fear of what the future holds, and worry I can't do enough from afar as they age. All these go together with admiration, enjoyment, laughter, respect. It's a muddle. It's gratitude.

And then there's writing. I'm grateful for my writing life. How, then, to explain the roller coaster of feelings when the writing surges ahead one day, and the very next it struggles to climb a few feet only to rattle back downhill. The glow of compatriots, and the bleakness of days when I have to go out for coffee to see a human being. The initial spark, the hacking and hewing, the crumpled pages--and the story told. Simple? No. Pure? Absolutely not. Gratitude? Yes.

For years I had this quote taped to the inside of my kitchen cabinet: "The best is the enemy of the good." When you expect perfection, nothing is ever good enough.

So today I'm enjoying the little things I'm grateful for: smoky black tea, meeting a new friend for lunch. And the smudgy ones, like my gratitude for the cat who sleeps next to me, even if she keeps me awake by repositioning herself near my face. Nothing is perfect, including me. Especially me. And maybe that's something I can be grateful for.


  1. Lovely post, Emily. It rings so true for me.

  2. A perfect post expressing imperfect, yet wholly honest emotions. Thanks, Emily!

  3. What you say about perfection is SO true...


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