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A Day of Gratitude

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A slightly misaligned hip joint. A date that showed up an hour late. An acting role that went to a blonde. A man that laid on his horn and swore in traffic. A few extra pounds from the summer that just won’t come off. These are the kinds of frustrations and disappointments that occur in my daily life. Small but real incidences that I react to, that I let get under my skin.

I worry about the cost of a night guard for my teeth ($500), and how much I should spend on new headshots ($400? $700? $1000?). I struggle with the hangover from hell welcoming me into my 29th year, and bemoan the fact that I still have acne. I kick myself for opening up to a guy too fast, and then scaring him away. I cry in bed for several hours at least once a month, unable to control my feminine hormones. I think about death – my own, my parents, my friends, strangers I’ve never met – but it’s still mostly a hypothetical. I’ve never watched anyone die.

For all of these things, I am grateful.

* * * * *

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been sitting a lot with three different stories. The first is that of Chris Kyle, the Navy Seal with the best sniper record in US military history. He was killed by a fellow veteran in 2013. I saw Clint Eastwood’s film version of the book written by Kyle and two others, American Sniper, at a screening by myself. I’ve never been good with war films, but I found this one particularly difficult. The seemingly senseless nature of the war in Iraq, the effects of PTSD on ordinary living, Kyle’s inability to connect with his wife and enjoy simple moments with his children. I thought of that oft said quote, “war changes men.” And then after a hard fought struggle to overcome the traumas of war, the tragic ending. I’m still grappling with it.

The second story also deals with war and its ramifications, this time from the perspective of an Australian doctor working on the Thai-Burma Death Railway during World War II. Although a fictional account, Richard Flanagan tackles a very real piece of history in his Booker prize winning “The Narrow Road to the Deep North.” A history I’d never even heard of. I’ve been reading it slowly, in small increments. Partly because the writing deserves to be fully taken in, fully absorbed, partly because I find the circumstances of the prisoners almost impossible to deal with. Theirs was a life so cruel, so incredibly inhumane and punishing, that just the words on the page have given me nightmares.

Finally, the third story is that of Lydia, a beautiful Latin American girl in her early 30s who got married last summer. Upon returning to Los Angeles from her magical wedding in her hometown of Santiago de Cuba, she learned that cancer had spread from her uterus to her spine and up to her brain. Some doctors gave her three weeks, others three months. But she’s determined to beat it. And if anyone can, it’s Lydia. I got the honor of celebrating her father’s birthday with her and her family. He had never even been on a plane before coming to Los Angeles.

* * * * *

As I get ready to celebrate another Thanksgiving with my happy, healthy family, in a comfortable Southern California home filled with love and laughter and all of the comforts of a middle class American lifestyle, there are no words for the gratitude I feel. For my mother. For my father. My friends. My lovers. My career. My two legs and ten fingers. The food in my fridge. The classes I have the privilege of attending: acting, improv, Soulcycle, SFactor. My ability to read and write and communicate what I feel. The sun that greets me every morning through my rust colored curtains. Or the clouds or the rain. Just the morning at all. I am a strong, 29 year-old white female living in Los Angeles in 2014. My life has been so blessed.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget how fortunate I am. I wish I could say that I live every moment in a state of gratitude, but too often I find myself slipping into negative thought patterns. I get upset over a parking ticket, or a common cold, or a bitter email criticizing my work. But in moments like these, I just need to remember Chris Kyle and all those who’ve fought in war. The tens of thousands of men who died building a seldom talked about railway, and all of the others who live without freedom or rights. Lydia, and the millions who fight daily for their lives, against a sentence given much too soon.

In my acting class, we talk a lot about “last time-ness,” that somewhat morbid experience of seeing things for the final time. Like a convict on death row receiving his last meal. While it would be exhausting to always live in that space, really considering it can give profound meaning to the littlest things. The grass, the sky, that Starbucks coffee, the song on the radio, even the guy angrily honking his horn. Imagine for a second truly experiencing each of these things for the very last time. Powerful, right?

It’s easy to get annoyed with the holidays. The expensive flights home, the rocky familial relationships, the horrifying commercialization of practically every aspect, the mashed potatoes that have gone cold while waiting for all of the loud shrieking kids to get through the line first. But this Thanksgiving, I’m going to appreciate every moment like its my last. Because even if its (hopefully!) not, my life deserves to be treated with that level of gratitude.

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