This is my gratitude journal, but before I begin, I wish to introduce my reason for writing it. I have just finished a seven-day gratitude challenge on Facebook. I had begun it hesitantly. In my then low spirits, there was at least one thing I could manage to be grateful for — my existence. I had survived premature birth, as a blue baby to boot. I had survived the same disease that felled the poet Robert Louis Stevenson in his 20s. I am now in my 63rd year and have lived over twice the lifespan predicted by the orthopaedic surgeon who had diagnosed the illness in my teens. My first day’s note of thanks was quite terse: I was alive despite all odds. I had all my senses. I was not ill. I had mentioned beauty in my second point: to be able to see the beauty of this world. Beauty, I now realize, is central to and defines my diverse interests: in plants, in gardening, in visual arts, in cooking, and more. It is the one constant of my life. Had I not begun the act of writing down my thanks seven days ago, the way that beauty unites my interests — previously regarded by me as scattered and random — might quite likely have eluded me. In the process of writing my thanks, I had uncovered a part of myself.
There is a saying in Hebrew: Ha te’avon ba im ha okhel, appetite comes with the food, with the act of eating. And so with my writing: those initial, tentative sentences became paragraphs. How could I not explain why I was thankful? One of my high school friends who had enjoyed reading my thank-you notes asked if I would seriously consider continuing to write everyday, for a month, for three months, for a year. If she had been able to benefit from my writing, she said, she was certain others would as well. Once again I was hesitant. After giving it deep thought, I eventually agreed. The act of writing down a gratitude journal had been so beneficial to me, to my own outlook and well-being for seven days. How much more for an entire year? Thank you notes for an entire year could only do me good. This is the first, then, of many days of writing out my thanks. At the outset I cannot know how long I can sustain this effort of documenting at least three things daily to be thankful for. I can but try. My intention, my challenge to myself, is to go on writing every day for the next 365 days. A year of saying thanks — a year of thanksgiving. My year of grace.
My mother, Angela, whom I call Mamang, and who passed away at 99 (officially, that is; her youngest sister, Auntie Anita, had said she was more likely 100) had a special way of saying grace. I only came to appreciate this in her final days. Dakkel ti yamanmi, Apo, Great is our gratefulness, Lord, was the way she began one lunchtime. It was a departure from her usual, which was, Agyaman kami, Apo, We thank you, Lord. I was struck by the poetry in those Ilocano words. I had not formally learned my mother’s tongue. I had absorbed it, as the saying goes, with mother’s milk. I am embarrassed to admit that I would find it hard to understand with 100% certainty literary Ilocano, as with official Tagalog, or Pilipino. (Mine is the generation that was penalized for speaking our native language at school.) The beauty of those words still rings in me the way my mother spoke them four years ago.
1. I begin with Mamang’s classical Ilocano phrase: Dakkel ti yamanco, great is my thankfulness. Great is my thankfulness, indeed, that the emotional pain that precipitated my low spirits weeks ago is gone. It is amazing how the reassurance by a loved one — that one is loved and liked and thought of — has a tremendous impact on one’s well-being. I love and I am loved in return: this is one of the greatest of things to be grateful for. In my advancing years, I know that mutual affection is truly rare. Thus, all the more precious.
2. I am eternally grateful that I was able to spend time with Mamang in her final years and that I was with her during her last moments. That I was present at that time could only have been arranged through celestial grace. (I had been in the Southern Cordillera mountains to begin 6-months’ fieldwork, but my illness, the absence of my supervisor, and that of my research assistant made me return in haste to Manila. Not just one reason to turn back, but three: an unmistakable heavenly command!)
3. I am thankful that I speak my parents’ mother tongue and that Mamang, who loved to sing, taught me Ilocano songs. Most of them are quite comic. I thank my dear cousin Manang Norma, Auntie Anita’s daughter, who invited Mamang, my older sister Violeta, and me to spend the summer with her by the sea four years ago. It was a time of much singing with Mamang and other relatives and so much fun and joy. I treasure it and remember it as the Summer of Song.
4. In my daily life, I am grateful to be surrounded by nature. A red squirrel bounding across the lawn; an intense blue morning glory finally blooming in the shade of the bamboo; another Gloriosa lily opening to join the first, were yesterday’s high points.
Yes, indeed, not just three today, but more, to be grateful for. Dakkel ti yamanco!