Wednesday, November 16, 2005


In Which We Find Our Hidden Thankful...

In grade school, I had a teacher who was really good at pointing out things we kids should have been grateful for but never were because these things were so much a part of our daily lives that we took them for granted.

Not the usual stuff, like a roof over our heads or shoes on our feet. She had a knack for identifying other factors of life so beneath our radar that when she brought them to our attention, the effect was profound, like tripping over the same stone on your front walk every day and then one day realizing that stone was a giant diamond.

She classified these things as "Hidden Thankfuls." And one year--long about Thanksgiving--our homework was to think of our own Hidden Thankful and talk about it in class the next day.

This wasn't exactly a gifted program I was in at the time, and a lot of kids had trouble with the assignment (either that, or they just didn't care that much about it). We were only in 5th grade or so and our teacher's notion to push our perception beyond the obvious was probably a little early. Because the next day, most kids came back with Hidden Thankfuls like, duh, a roof over their heads and, ba-doi, food on the table.

I was one of the few who gave this assignment a lot of thought. I spent the night wondering about it. Should I say I was thankful that I had a father? Not that he was such a great dad at the time, but he was around. And after all, my best friend Shawn didn't have a father living with him (as I found out much later, he had never even met the man). Should I go bigger, and be grateful for plants and trees, since they gave us the air we breathed (we had just studied photosynthesis in science class, so it was fresh on my mind)? It was a puzzler.

When we met in class next time to share our Hidden Thankfuls, Michelle, the cutest girl in our grade, turned out to have given the assignment some thought too. She announced that her Hidden Thankful was that she had flawless 20/20 vision. Then she looked at me with her perfect eyes, and said, "I wouldn't have even thought of that, but the other day I saw MM take his glasses off to clean them and I saw how thick the lenses were. He must be blind as a bat!" The class laughed at that, but I was secretly pleased that I had inspired her. I don't remember what I finally settled on back then (I probably went with plants, a Hidden Thankful you may shortly find ironic).

But if you were to ask me today, I'd have to say my Hidden Thankful is that I know--and I've known for ages, beyond any shadow of a doubt--that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing.

Over the years, I've known so many people who live their lives in a kind of aimless uncertainty. Even if they have good jobs or are doing well in their careers, they secretly wonder if this is what they're meant to be doing. Or they play the what-if game and wonder about other choices they might have made. I have plenty of anxieties and worries bouncing around in my mind at any given moment, but thankfully this isn't one of them.

For a long time now, I've known that I should be doing the one thing I'm good at. I'm good with words. So I work with words. When I'm done working with words, I come home and I play with words. That's what I do. I'm grateful that I get paid to do it, of course. But I'm even more grateful that I know this is what I'm supposed to be doing.

To be sure, this knowledge has occasionally been its own source of frustration and annoyance, but never so much that I've wavered from my position on the subject, not since adulthood anyway. I've never wondered if I would have been better off as a salesman or made more money as a lawyer (to name two occupations people have thought I'd be good at). And although I started college as a film major, once I switched to journalism I never played the what-if game. After all, I had only started in film because I wanted to write TV and movie scripts. I wanted to tell stories. I wanted to work with words. Journalism ended up being a more expedient means to that end and so I've never looked back.

But like Michelle, who wouldn't have realized what her Hidden Thankful was if she hadn't seen an example of what life would be like without it, I probably would not have realized how lucky I am to have this knowledge, this certainty about what I'm supposed to be doing, if I hadn't spent so much time with someone who didn't have it.

I'm talking, of course, about Her Lovely Self.

For most of the time that I've known her (and I have it from reliable sources that it goes back even further) my wife wrestled with enormous uncertainty about her choices in life. In college she majored in business, but couldn't make up her mind about what type of business she wanted to focus on, and that led to her writing about different kinds of businesses and then wondering if business journalism might not be a good career choice. So she switched majors and got a job at a trade magazine and that's when I came along. And a favorite subject for her then was "Am I in the right field?" Eventually, she decided she wasn't and she made a switch to corporate communications, then became the manager of a communications office. Each time, though, she was more beset with uncertainty. If that's possible.

"I'm not good at anything!" is a statement she has uttered so often, it's eclipsed only by the number of times she has said, "Is this where I'm supposed to be?" which I have joked I would have carved on her tombstone, a joke she never found amusing.

She also never seemed to appreciate my efforts to show her all the other things in life she had to be grateful for. So what if she didn't know what her purpose in life was? "Look on the bright side," I'd say. "At least you have perfect 20/20 vision." And then I'd have to take off my glasses. Not to show her how thick the lenses were, but to keep her from breaking them.

I think she finally got an answer to her question--or at least less uncertainty about the question--when we bought our first house and she suddenly found herself with a yard containing plants. Gardening was not something she'd ever done before, certainly not ornamental gardening, and the previous owners of our first house had five different, gorgeous, flowering gardens sprouting up in our small plot of a yard. She didn't want to find herself with five different patches of brown by mid-summer (especially after our new neighbors talked about how much they LOVED our yard) so Her Lovely Self bought loads of gardening books and went to classes and sought out expert advice at plant stores and along the way she discovered something.

She loves gardening.

More than that, she's good at it. Not long ago, she studied and worked and became a certified Master Gardener, which she says is no big deal--not like they license you or anything--but I was pretty impressed. And so are the many hundreds of people she has helped through her local Master Gardener group, which engages in all manner of volunteer efforts, from helping folks start their own gardens to lecturing in schools about the wonders of the plant kingdom.

If there's any downside, to hear her tell it, it's the fact that I am completely and totally uninterested in gardening. It's not that I hate gardening (although as a kid, I despised weeding our acre of vegetable garden, the only kind of gardening my family did); I'm just completely ambivalent about the actual act of gardening.

If you ask me, I think that makes me the perfect gardening companion. I mean, I'm never likely to make a scene at the garden center, arguing with her over whether or not we should put in wisteria or clematis (a flowering vine which, to this day, I have to stop myself from calling "chlamydia"). She's the Queen of the Garden. I'm just the humble serf who offloads bags of topsoil and starts her cute little rototiller whenever she's in the mood to vent her frustrations on an unsuspecting patch of dirt.

But my disinterest IS such that when Her Lovely Self and the kids go away to her parents for a week in the summer, she asks a neighbor to water her garden (which I am perfectly willing to do, let me hasten to add. But one summer I gave some plants too much water and others didn't get enough and Her Lovely Self came home to what she called "an agricultural tragedy," which I think was overstating the case a little bit).

I also evidently cannot be trusted to be left alone with something as innocuous as a wheelbarrow and a pile of compost. For weeks this summer we had an Everest of compost out in our driveway, more than it seemed we could ever use in a lifetime, let alone in a season. Every so often, I'd get ambitious of an evening or a weekend and decide to be the Good Husband. I'd roll out the barrow and fill it up with compost and cart it to one of the many decorative patches of earth and green things we had in the back, only to be intercepted by the warden.

"Where are you going with that?"

"I just wanted to move some of the compost. You know, so I don't have to keep parking in the street."

"You didn't answer my question."

"I'm putting it over there (waves in the general direction of the entire back yard)."

"Well, don't put it on the tulips. And not over there: we don't need anymore in the vegetable garden. And...oh never mind. Just put it back."

"Put it back?!? I know you don't think I'm actually going to put the compost back on the pile!!"

And so what ends up happening is she has to direct me: a shovelful here, a half-load there. But even that is something I apparently cannot do unmonitored. "Don't just dump it!" she'll cry. "Spread it around a bit." At the next location, when I spread it, she'll shriek. "No! Tamp it down. Tamp! Tamp! Tamp!"

Don't get me wrong. In this season of thankfulness, I'm tremendously grateful Her Lovely Self has finally found the thing she's meant to do.

I just wish it didn't require ME to wander about aimlessly, saying things like "I'm not good at anything!" and "Is this where I'm supposed to be?"

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Hmmmm...I kind of enjoy yardwork, but I really enjoy a yard that looks nice yet is low-maintenance. My biggest accomplishment (in my mind) when I was gardening was eliminating an anthill that had decided to make my yard their home. Oh well...
Like you I know what I am suppose to do. Have never wondered about it because its a fact.


I am good at it, and I love doing it.

As for the spouse thing?

:) ... be happy that she allows you to be part of that part of her life.

Hidden thankful ... remember?
Hmmm......I see a glaring "Hidden Thankful" have a beautifully landscaped yard, yet you don't have to pay a landscapers fee. You even get to boink the gardener!
After my son was born and I quit working to be a mom and we bought our first house, the thing that seemed like the next natural step was for me to take up gardening. I had visions of growing beautiful flowers, along side a lovely garden of fresh vegetables and herbs that I would use to make enticing meals. Sadly, I quickly discovered my thumb is more brown that green and nothing I grew was either edible or lovely to look at. Ah well, count your blessings that you have a built-in landscaper cause for those of us who have no natural inclination towards it, it can become a big headache to create a beautiful lawn.
I think it's often less of "I'm not good at anything" and more of "I am interested in everything". I know lots of people that have changed careers multiple times, not just because they hadn't found their calling, but because their interests and talents had changed and matured. I have had 4 different jobs, all in different fields since completing my degree in 2003. I don't think it's because I am a "lost soul" that hasn't found my true calling but rather that I enjoy so many things that I want to be able to explore them all.
I am glad that HLS has found something into which she can pour her passion and dedication that also gives her joy in return.
hahaha~ I think part of her finding what she's meant to do IS that you get to say "I don't know anything!" After all, she's had to sit back and watch you know what you were meant to do. ;)

[I especially like this post b/c I'm always the one who's questioning what I'm supposed to be doing with my life, while the Significant Other has always known his calling.]
Not to be disrespectful in any way, but I don't think HLS says "please" to you enough.

That said, yes you are lucky indeed. I was "lost" myself for many years, until I discovered that my true calling was to be a housewife (yes, I'm a guy, but until people accept that men and women are equally competent to raise children I will refer to the most popular term of the day). Anyway, now I know what I am great at, where I am supposed to be. Maybe gardening is HLS's thing. If it is, mazel tov! And, here's some more unasked-for advice (how cheeky I am today)... Ask HLS to teach you gardening. You've got a master gardener right there (that's an awesome thing), so take advantage of it. Learn what the different plants look like, learn what they do, learn how they smell. It's magnificent stuff, and very low in fat.
Wouldn't it have been a HORTIcultural tragedy, or do I have my sciences mixed up?
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Horticulture (if I understand correctly) is a branch of Agriculture. Other branches include agronomy and animal husbandry. If HLS's focus, with regards to the watering mishaps, was on soil management, then she could have said it was an "agricultural tragedy with agronomical implications of astounding aggregation"... (previous comment deleted for poor spelling)
Well, I'm very thankful for teachers like that one, who make a positive impact on little kids, AND I'm thankful for being able to benefit from your wonderful gift and talent for writing.

Your blog is like a really fantastic book that you don't want to end.. and IT DOESN'T! So cool!
I know I may have missed the gist of the post, but that's one of the most brilliant uses of "ba-doi" I've ever seen.
Given the comments above by Stu and the anonymous but quite correct commenter, I feel compelled to admit that I might--just might--have misremembered what HLS actually said. She's the Master Gardener, after all. She most likely DID say it was a horticultural tragedy, but my familiarity with the term doesn't extend much beyond the famous Dorothy Parker quote.

Remember, I'm the guy who keeps confusing a flowering vine for a sexually transmitted disease...
I had an ex-boyfriend who always said the same thing about clematis. Ugh.
c'mon, chlamydia is funny! I make the same joke when my wife and I are in the produce section and we pass a certain type of seedless mandarin orange. Maybe it's just that I'm a Zappa fan and find bodily functions amusing. Hey, don't even get me started on how funny puking stories are. I mean, Stephen King's original narrative of Lard-Ass Hogan's revenge, that had me rolling on the floor laughing, especially the first time I read it, when I was fifteen. Hugely funny!
I wish I, too, could figure out what it is I'm supposed to be doing!
One of my secret, hidden... shameful truths is that... even though I am a registered and licensed landscape architect ...I have so little to do with plants that master gardners run circles around me... I'm jealous, I need to find me a master gardener.
I want that epitaph for myself. I'll stipulate proper attribution, of course. ;)
My hidden thankful would be the ability to draw. Not great, but enough to get a smile or a chuckle. :)
There is a fine line between what one is good at and what one wants to do with their life. Generally, to want to do something necessitates a certain aptitude for the work involved. However, what you're good at doesn't necessarily help in deciding what you want to do with your life. I tied myself in knots over the choice for years. So much so that I lost all perspective on my skills AND my desires. Why are we so easily confused? You are fortunate, indeed, to have found something you are passionate about and good at. HLS has arrived as well. I congratulate her and wish her well.
Gee thanks MM now I'll forever have to make sure I say Climatis and not chlamidia.. I'm sure I will always remember your confusion and in turn be confused... Obviously I'm easily confused!
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