When I was in sixth grade, I took my teacher’s advice and began keeping a gratitude journal. Each day I’d pen a short sentence about the ice cream sundae I got to have after dinner or the game of checkers my grandma let me win, giving thanks for the simplest of pleasures.
Now twice the age I was when I produced those entries, it is less the act I am amazed by than the attitude with which they were produced. At 11 and 12 years old, a life well-lived was nothing more than stringing together tiny moments of joy, letting a sense of thankfulness win out over playground bullies or spelling bee defeats.
At 22 and 23, under the auspicious title of Yale Divinity School student, I betrayed my sixth grade self, and became ever more certain that it was not a series of small celebrations I should seek, but, instead, a foundation of capital-A Accomplishments on which to build my life.
Graduate with Honors from Iowa. Attend Yale University. Earn an Author Page with the Huffington Post. Win Friends in High Places.
My gratitude journal from the past year would not have been full, but it would have had impressive entries.
But in the midst of all that Achieving, I stopped being able to make sense of the parts of me that are perfectly happy to spend an entire day reading a novel or tweet about especially buttery popcorn. I forgot how to string together good times, and instead walked around hungry for the next great big gold star that would assure me I was doing alright.
And so this summer I put myself in Life Time Out. Or, as I like to call it, I signed up for a Summer Sabbatical. I put all my Accomplishing on hold in order to remember what it is like to smile about the small things.
I have come out on the other side a much better me. It feels good to be in my own skin again. I start a year that will witness my transition into the Real World with the kind of gratitude that sustained me through those most monstrous of days of Middle School.
8 Books, 5 Series, 2 Published Pieces, a few coffee dates with old friends and maybe one or two lobster feasts. It really isn’t much to show for over three months of well-intentioned living. But I am grateful for it all. I am blessed to remember how to say thank you for a day spent with Netflix instead of apologizing for a month gone by without a new blog post.
I say hello to September with the assurance that much to be grateful for stretches out along my path. And that I have learned to pay attention.
The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
This Lullaby, Sarah Dessen
Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson
In the Garden of Beasts, Erik Larson
Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer
Buzz: The Science and Lore of Alcohol and Caffeine, Stephen Braun
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, Michael Pollan
Wisenheimer: A Childhood Subject to Debate, Mark Oppenheimer
House of Cards
San Diego, May 14-21, with Britta Larson
Lobster Tour (Boston-Ipswich-Acadia-Portland), June 3-8, with Mom and Dad
Brooklyn, June 12, with Hannah and Kim
McGill University in Montreal, June 15-29, with Esther, Tom and Debra
St. Louis, July 8-13, with Group Mission Trips
Chicago, July 21, with Mom
Aziz Ansari, Montreal
Feist, Jazz Fest, Montreal
Book of Mormon
Certified Stalker, Yale Divinity School Development Office
Red Shirt Staff, Christian & Missionary Alliance Conference, Group Mission Trips
Puppy Sitter, Moses and Ru
Audrey, Trusted life advisor, St. Louis condo
Mike and Liz, State Farm mentors, Bloomington Chipotle
Jessica, Iowa pal, Pontiac cafe
Ryan, Rachel and Rosie, Adopted Family, Naperville love nest
Well-Intentioned Interference and the Freedom of Religion, July 8, HuffPost Religion
Give Us This Day Our Daily Latte, August 12, HuffPost College