— dhanley87

Limerick poet, Michael Hartnett (1942-1999), Munster’s poet laureate, declared in his 1975 “A Farewell to English” that henceforth he would write only in Irish intent on preserving as best he could the heart of the Irish soul.

One of the great benefits of growing old(er) is that I have been able to free myself of all the prejudices I harbored as a youth.

But despite such progress, there’s a person, or type of person, who still gets to me — on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day.

I’m talking about Plastic Paddy, the Irish-American stentorian gasman draped in emerald blaring his 2 a.m refrain of  “The Wild Colonial Boy” unable to count the many sheets to the wind he’s become — and thinking Castlemaine is a large building in the State of Maine.

And how often is this Paddy accompanied by a lass sporting a Kelly green T-shirt inviting oncomers to “Kiss me I’m Irish.”

I’ve talked to a number of these Hibernophobes and realized that the St. Patrick’s Day they celebrate has nothing to do with Ireland and the people who live there.

They might claim Irish heritage but the Irish part is subculturally divorced from the people who call the Kingdom home.

I have also asked these Paddies what poet they like best: Seamus Heaney, Paddy Kavanagh, or Paul Durcan?

And asked as well: Can you tell me why Ireland was the first country in the world to sanction same-sex marriage by popular vote — a country whose ties with the Roman Catholic Church was hithertofore impregnable.

The Plastic Paddy phenomenon has not escaped the attention of others, some feeling their patience tested as much as mine.

In October 2016, the Irish journalist Rosita Boland explored the world of Plastic Paddy in an article for The Irish Times, “How Irish-America sees Ireland.”

Boland sought to find out if the “Irish” in Irish-American was grounded in a cultural reality. She headed to Boston, the city whose clannish Irish-American population is the most concentrated in the United States.

Like an unabashed ethnographer, Boland entered the lives of eight Irish-Americans — who had never been to Ireland — to query them about connections to their roots.

Her conclusion was, “When Irish-Americans talk about identifying with the Irish they mean the Irish who came to settle in the United States and their descendants, not those of us living in Ireland.”

Her Bostonian sample saw Ireland as an “abstract, romanticized receptacle of dreams and green fields, and the place that will soothe a lifelong ache.” The sweet ersatz isle of John Ford’s “The Quiet Man.”

One of those interviewed by Boland was Rob Anderson, a Natick man who plays bagpipe in two Celtic bands; he himself was perplexed by his Irish-American identity. He said he was aware of, “the expressions that people in Ireland have about us: Plastic Paddies and the fake Irish.”

Then he offered an apologia of sorts, “I guess there are two factions of people in Ireland, one who see us as silly and that we are Yanks, the other who is grateful that things have moved on for the people who emigrated. I know there are a number of people in Ireland who don’t consider people like me as Irish, and that’s technically accurate, but we’re doing our best to keep our Irish culture and heritage alive, and pass it on to our children. At the end of the day that should be enough.”

Case closed? Not exactly.

Anderson revealed that, when talking about his Irish self, he had two scripts: “If I’m talking to someone from the old sod — Ireland —” he says, “I’ll say I’m an American of Irish descent. If I’m talking to someone here in America it’s easier to say I’m Irish, because here everyone comes from somewhere.”

He then showed the root of his thought. He said his grandmother used to say, “Those who had to go got up and left Ireland. They endured a 3,000-mile boat journey, and when they landed here they saw signs that said ‘No Irish Need Apply.’ It’s those people I identify with. They are the people who made the Irish in America what they are today.”

Because there’s so much to unpack in what Anderson says, we’ll put it atop the agenda for St. Patrick’s Day night when, after the fifth jar of stout, we start discussing in earnest. The topic ranks up there with “identity diffusion” among Irish Americans as well as the incendiary, “Are you a Plastic Paddy?”

I would like to add something else to this agenda: the 21 A-list essays explaining how Ireland became “modern” found in “The Princeton History of Modern Ireland” (2016) edited by Richard Bourke and Ian McBride.

Of these enlightening explorations, I would require every wannabe Hibernophile to read Maurice Walsh’s “Media and Culture in Ireland, 1960-2008.”

It’s explosive. The Irish journalist looks at every piece of the cultural erector set from which the modern-Irish-self was wrought, giving especial attention to those powerful forces that sought to take charge of the identity-shaping process for their own ends, especially the Roman Catholic Church.

Walsh talks about how subversive television became in the 1960s, serving as a mirror in which the Irish could gaze upon themselves as they were — individually and collectively.

On talk shows broadcast on RTÉ, Ireland’s national television station, such as “The Late Late Show” (modeled on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson”), the Irish people from O’Connell Street to Blackwater Bridge in Kerry, saw for the first time probing questions posed to government and church officials.

Colm Tóibín, the Irish novelist, said that without such shows it’s quite possible — with respect to the touchy subject of “sex” for the Irish — “that many people in Ireland would have lived their lives in the twentieth century without ever having heard anyone talking about sex.”

And when, after dinner each night, the Irish family gathered around the television set instead of kneeling around the bed to say the rosary, officials from the Roman Catholic Church’s Marian devotion team, condemned television as harmful to the health of the family. Their view was that of the Mayo-born prelate Patrick Peyton: “The family that prays together stays together.”

But church authorities took a severe blow when the Irish investigative journalist Mary Raftery produced a three-part documentary, “States of Fear,” exposing the sexual and physical abuse of children in Ireland’s industrial and reformatory schools from the 1930s to the 1970s — by members of Catholic religious orders. The country froze in shock.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern issued an apology to the abused and to all the people of Ireland. Then, in 2000, a Child Abuse Commission was set up.

When the commission’s report came out nine years later “The Irish Times” called it “the map of an Irish hell ... a dark hinterland of the State, a parallel country whose existence we have long known but never fully acknowledged. It is a land of pain and shame, of savage cruelty and callous indifference.”

We need to add this item to our agenda as well.

In James Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” an Irish nationalist, Davin, fed up with his friend Stephen Dedalus’s lack of commitment to things Irish, annoyedly asks, “Are you Irish at all?”

An indignant Dedalus retorts, “Come with me now to the office of arms and I will show you the tree of my family.” It didn’t matter, Davin thought his friend had been touched by Plastic Paddy.

Whether one’s roots in Ireland are deep or shallow, every Irish American on St. Patrick’s Day 2019 ought to include in their celebratory discussion (as the sixth pint of Guinness is being poured) Davin’s question: “Are you Irish at all?” We all want to know.

Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhaoibh!

Location:

— The Victoria and Albert Museum

William Morris designed this embroidery of birds choosing mates.

— Photo by Georgia Gray

Two birds perch on a windowsill at Indian Ladder Farms in New Scotland.

The first entry in the second edition of Butler’s Lives of the Saints for February 14 reads: ST VALENTINE, Martyr (c. A.D. 269).

On Ancestry.com, you can trace your roses and heart-shaped chocolates all the way back to him.

Not exactly. St. Valentine wouldn’t know Valentine’s Day from a baseball game.

For a long time, it was believed there were two Valentines: a priest buried on the Via Flaminia (the road from Rome to Rimini) and a bishop from Terni, also a martyr.

But scholars who’ve looked into this say there was only one Valentine, that the people of Terni appropriated Rome’s version out of small-town chauvinism.

It was also believed the “romance” of Valentine’s Day came from the ancient Roman observance of Lupercalia, a mid-February festival of purification when citizens performed rites to rid themselves of impurities that threatened their future.

Young men ran about the city in a loin cloth — the historian Plutarch says — flailing away with strips of leather cut from the hides of goats sacrificed at the Lupercal altar.

The scourging was said to drive out spirits that brought disease and sterility. Women welcomed the straps across their backs believing the flagellation would bring babies.

But the running naked was halted in 495 when Pope Gelasius transformed the pagan rite by making St. Valentine the new protagonist. People could celebrate the 14th with clothes on.

There was no sense then that St. Valentine was a Cupid whose golden arrow stirred desire in witless “victims.”

That connection came in the 14th Century when England’s great poet Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400), the Father of English Literature, included love-driven birds in a poem.

Lines 309-310 of his “Parlement of Foules” say: “For this was on seynt Volantynys day/ Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.”

In modern English that’s: “For this was on St. Valentine’s Day/ When every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”

Thus Valentine’s Day became the celebration of coupling as folks set their sights on the object of their desire.

“At the time of Chaucer’s death in 1400,” as scholar Jack Oruch points out in, “St. Valentine, Chaucer, and Spring in February,” “the transformation of Valentine into an auxiliary or parallel to Cupid as sponsor of lovers was well under way.”

Two of Chaucer’s contemporaries also wrote Valentine poems and, right after his death, poet Jean de Garencière’s shared his Hallmarkian thought: “Au jour d’uy qu’homme doit dame choisir Je vous choisy … ”

This loosely means, “Since Valentine’s Day is a time to choose a love, won’t you be my Valentine?”

As we know, in the United States today, the “choisy” stuff is a $20 billion business as corporations run line after line on consumers that love can be shown through purchase.

In her article “How Your Small Business Can Find Customer Love This Valentine’s Day” on the Internet’s Constant Contact, Ashley Perssico tells small-business decision-makers to “aim your arrow at male shoppers.”

Pourquoi? In 2015, men spent an average of $191 on their petite choisy and women countered with $97.

And “while jewelry, going out, and flowers” accounted for most of the love-day dollars, 20 percent of folks, Perssico says, planned to get something for their pet. Spot and Tabby are now in the loop.

Thus, as St. Valentine has nothing to do with Valentine’s Day, so neither does love except in a schmaltzy maltzy way. St. Valentine’s Day, just like Christmas, Halloween, and Mother’s Day, is a time for people to buy into the corporate sales pitch that feelings of love and community are enhanced when packaged products are bought for others.

I wonder what would happen if, instead of a Victoria’s Secret garter belt and heart-shaped box of chocolates, some poor soul offered his lover on the 14th a copy of Erich Fromm’s classic “The Art of Loving.” How would that play in Peoria?

Fromm says of course “giving” is a part of love but so are traits like care, responsibility, and respect. I like the last chapter, “The Practice of Love,” when Fromm hints at a few mandates.

He says the person who wishes to be a true lover — in addition to needing patience and discipline — must achieve a level of concentration that comes only from being “alone with oneself,” which entails disconnecting oneself from the spin of religion, the market, and state.

The logic is: Until a person finds out who he really is, he has no self to share with, or give to, another. The good news is that those who find their true selves are moved to listen to others, to take what they say seriously. Their philosophy is needs-based.

Fromm also says lovers who practice the art of love don’t waste time in empty chatter. They avoid “possible, trivial conversation, that is, conversation which is not genuine.” Their shared life-plan allows them to relate on a deeper level.

Fromm ends by offering some old-fashioned advice: Stay away from “bad company.” You want to be a good lover? Stay away from those (persons and things) who turn you away from yourself.

In 2019, bad company translates to corporations that bombard the populace, through advertising and social media, with an image of personhood that says: When you purchase packaged goods and services — and pawn them off on others — you’re showing fidelity and commitment.

A subtle but insidious part of the pitch is that it includes a roster of what a person’s needs are, followed by details about how and where need-satisfaction can be purchased. Of course there’s always a freedom discount on the Fourth of July!

Would anyone dare give a copy of “The Art of Loving” to his or her love-bird on the 14th with an offer to read along and then discuss what was read? Would such a gift be greeted with guffaws?

The development of the Valentinian concentration mentioned above requires deep doses of solitude to discern what one really needs and then to measure those needs against the formulae the corporate world sells as love-affirming.

I also know that, when a person feels at home in his own skin, he (or she) is more inclined to accept diversity in others — and without resentment. That’s when Cupid’s shaft has altered the political economy of one’s being.

When I first read “The Art of Loving,” I created a catechism of my own. I made up all the questions about love I could think of and then added the answers as they arose. That wasn’t the case in grammar school when they told me what to say.

The catechism was a Valentine’s gift to me equal to a hundred dozen roses and the largest box of heart-filled chocolates ever seen, enough for any St. Valentine to die for.

Location:

— Giovanni Giovannetti/Grazia Neri

Sylvia Plath

Even if you’ve read the most meagre bit of psychology, you’ve run across the “true self” -“false self” distinction in personality.

The discussion is always accompanied by a list of what each self causes in the lives of others, as well as the bearer. I don’t want to give away the ending but the false self never fares well in the ratings.  

In his bold 1951 essay, “To Be That Self Which One Truly Is,” the much-acclaimed innovative psychotherapist Carl Rogers (1902-1987) says people begin to live only after they’ve found their true selves. All else is façadic foreplay.

I thought about the true-self - false-self distinction yesterday when I re-read the “Foreword” to the “Journals of Sylvia Plath” first published in 1982. It deals with false-self - true-self “stuff” in a puzzling way.

Bio-wise, Plath was a poet who seemed unable to escape the throes of despair. She solved the problem — after insulin and shock treatments — by taking her life. She was 30. To describe the details of where her two kids were when she stuck her head in an oven, is prurient. You can find out on your own.

The Foreword to the journals was written by poet Ted Hughes, who happened to be Plath’s husband for six years. What Hughes says about his wife’s search for who she was is mind-bending.

He says Sylvia struggled with who she presented to herself and to the world but the mind-bending part is when he says: “I never saw her show her real self to anybody.”

Astounding. If someone said that about me I’d be devastated.

Did Hughes mean his wife wore masks in her dealings with others? How could he tell? He starts to clarify but winds up bending the mind again.

He says Plath relied on her false-self, “Except in the last three months of her life” (December 1962, January and February 1963). I presume he means she finally became SYLVIA PLATH.

It had to be a source of relief for the poet, the true-self-self finally winning the war. But logic forces us to conclude that her true self, however well greeted at first, proved to be too much to bear.

I’m still looking for a description of the metamorphosis Hughes alludes to, the ways it showed toward him, toward the kids, and of course in her work. Had a door opened for Plath? Is that the appropriate metaphor?

Hughes says once Plath crossed her Rubicon “her real self, being the real poet, would now speak for itself, and would throw off all those lesser and artificial selves that had monopolized the words up to that point.”

In terms of work, and this is not ironic, Plath’s new “real poet self” produced a collection of poems, “Ariel,” that put her on the map of Foreverdom. Women especially continue to rate her very high.

When I first read Hughes’s assessment of his wife I wondered: If she found out, finally, who she was (the schisms being over) why did she see death as her only option? She should have been on the moon dancing with Fred Astaire.

Another thing about the journals is that Ted Hughes destroyed a batch of those toward the end. He said, “I destroyed [the last of her journals] because I did not want her children to read it (in those days I regarded forgetfulness as an essential part of survival).”

While admitting to controlling the narrative of Sylvia Plath, Hughes says he was justified; he said he provided a palliative for the kids. But why would anyone who had achieved nirvana, shall we say, care if it all “hung out?”

And would not a true-self-self want the world to see what a true-self looks and behaves like? A self-sans-spin, despite traits of oddity. Was that not what William Burroughs in “Naked Lunch” and Allen Ginsberg with “Reality Sandwiches” were trying to accomplish?

When biographers began looking into Plath’s life, Hughes and his surrogate, sister Olwyn Hughes, used artifice to deflect people from getting at Plath’s true story.

Poet/writer Anne Stevenson in “Bitter Fame,” (1989) — which some say is the truest view of Plath — said Olwyn interposed herself so much in the project that the book was “almost a work of dual authorship.”

For any writer to make such a statement is extraordinary. It’s like an artist handing over her brushes and canvas to a passer-by and saying: paint on, Macduff.

Janet Malcolm in her brilliant “The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes” (Knopf, 1994) takes on the true-self - false-self issues related to Plath but quickly takes aim at those controlling Plath’s narrative.

The book reads like a mystery, a who-done-it (like all Malcolm’s do) as she tracks down those intent on photoshopping Plath and, to mix metaphors, muddy the waters of veritas.

There are other pieces to the puzzle that need attention. First, the younger of Plath’s kids, Nicholas — who was left with his sister in the other room on Fitzroy Road — hanged himself in 2009. He was 47 and had been a successful academic. Some have commented on the trans-generation thing.

Nick’s sister, Frieda (now 58) — a poet, writer, painter — the other child in the room at Fitzroy — remains alive and fighting: she will not shy away from digging into all of her mother, especially at the end — and is always curious as to what her father was doing each step of the way.

Frieda (Hughes) wrote the Foreword to the newly-released (November 6, 2018) “The Letters of Sylvia Plath Vol 2: 1956-1963” (Harper) where Plath is there for all to see. For those interested in the life travails of a literary personage, it’s rich.

Frieda says her real concern was the 14 letters her mother wrote to her psychiatrist, Dr. Ruth Beuscher, the last three years of her life, the last dated Feb. 4, 1963, a week before Sylvia died.

In this final letter, the poet says her grim-psych-pall-over-existence-self had returned, “What appals me is the return of my madness, my paralysis,” she says, “my fear & vision of the worst — cowardly withdrawal, a mental hospital, lobotomies.”

In an earlier letter she avers that when she was pregnant, Hughes knocked her around and she miscarried shortly after — though medical evidence shows she had a serious appendix problem and had gone out of her mind in a fit of jealousy.

She thought Ted was out with another woman and tore into tiny (non-stickable-back) pieces his recent work — a play, batches of poems — when there were no computers to back things up). She had destroyed a piece of his heart and he was never the same after that.

Ted found solace in Ms. Assia Wevill who, after Plath’s death, helped raise the kids — and even had a daughter, Shura, with Ted.

But Weevil ran into trouble too. She too stuck her head in an oven, taking Ted’s 4-year old daughter with her.

Though Hughes appears to have been upright in many ways, as husband and father, a lot of people say he brought Plath down. Some showed up at his readings and guerilla-warrior-like shouted: “murderer!” “murderer!” Poet Robin Morgan begins her poem ''The Arraignment” with, “I accuse/Ted Hughes.'”

And on the cemetery stone where “Hughes” appears after Sylvia’s name, marauders have come in the night to chisel the “Hughes” off.

Emily Gould in an enlightening essay “The Bell Jar at 40” — the “Bell Jar” being Plath’s only novel — says everything we know about Sylvia Plath requires “closer reading.”

She says then we see, “another, more nuanced story about Plath as a woman and as a writer, one that shows the writer’s sense of terror about the consequences of becoming herself.” That is, the consequences of becoming “That Self Which One Truly Is.” It is an issue folks don’t like to grapple with.

I mention this because America is going through a true-self - false-self conflict right now. And, looking from the outside in, I see not only a nation being torn apart but also a generation of cynics being born who refuse to eat the reality sandwiches being served them.

Location:

There are some people and groups throughout history who were so taken with the birth of Jesus — the Christmas story and all it implies — that they hoped Jesus, after he died, would come a second time.

In anticipation they live(d) lives devoted to what they believed are the good tidings of Christmas — the gospel Jesus preached and lived.

One of those groups is the religious community of Shakers who in the late-18th Century settled tracts of land near the roads we drive to and from the Albany International Airport.

They were an offshoot of the Quakers, the peaceful ones, and because of their energetic dancing during religious services, came to be known as the “Shaking Quakers,” which I’ve always taken to be a kind of put-down.

The real name of these shaking people, if you will, is the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing. You can see right in their name that they were waiting for Jesus to come again — they wanted another Christmas.

A lot of people today have a hard time understanding such a thing because they have no conception of Christmas or, if they do, it has no “religious” dimension.

A survey by the Pew Research Center a year ago this month asked Americans what Christmas meant to them. The vast majority said they celebrate Christmas, and usually by going to church and visiting with their family — nine out of 10.

But the data also reveal that a goodly number of the youngest among us — in particular the Millennials — say Christmas is a cultural thing, not religious. A cynic might say they caved to the market.

These youngsters say the historical facts surrounding Jesus’s birth, as found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke — the Christmas narrative — have little meaning for them. Was there a manger? Maybe. Was Mary a virgin when Jesus was born? Who knows?

Shepherds, wise men? Nice touch but not applicable. More important is what will I get my Secret Santa.

While Pew’s data are interesting, none of the survey offers answers to questions having to do with whether Christmas changed people’s lives. Because the questions were not asked.

But wouldn’t it be wonderful to know how such a change occurs? Would an outside observer be able to see it?

As we know, the proof of the value of any ethical system is found in whether people follow its mandates. In the case of Christmas, is it possible to celebrate Christmas without including something about Christmas in it?

The Shakers are worth our attention because they offered the world not only a unique vision of what Christmas means but also a way of life that reflected the mandate of the manger.

They set up communities where the resources of everybody were shared, where every person was treated as everybody else; women are equal to men without exception.

The founder, Ann Lee, was a woman. Not long after came Lucy Wright who led the “church” for 25 years. In terms of equality she reminded her family, “There is a daily duty to do; that is, for the Brethren to be kind to the Brethren, Sisters kind to the Sisters, and the Brethren and Sisters kind to each other.”

Because of such values the Shakers seemed distinction-blind. They took in black people, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, ministers as well as penitents. The only prevailing variable was need.

Before the Civil War their numbers grew to 6,000 living in more than 20 communities stretching from New York to Indiana down to Kentucky. Unable to fight in the war because of their pacifism — they were exempted by the president himself — they took in wounded from both sides, they fed and clothed slaves, they gave beds to slaveholders.

One of the marvels of the Shakers is that their sense of community found expression in invention. They invented the flat broom, the clothespin, garden seeds sold in paper packets, the circular saw, and much more.

The beauty and simplicity of the cupboards they built and the chairs they sat on reflected Mother Ann’s maxim, “Do your work as though you had a thousand years to live and as if you were to die tomorrow.”

The great poet and Trappist monk Thomas Merton said, “The peculiar grace of a Shaker chair is due to the fact that it was made by someone capable of believing that an angel might come and sit on it.”

The devotional 1984 documentary “The Shakers: Hands to Work, Hearts to God” by Ken Burns and Amy Stechler Burns highlights the radical simplicity of Mother Ann’s followers in every frame.

And in “The Shaker Experience in America: A History of the United Society of Believers” (Yale University Press, 1992), Stephen Stein documents the ways the communities grappled with the same kinds of issues every family faces.

After the Civil War, changes in economic and social conditions saw fewer people called to live the Shaker life. The closing of their communities, one after the other in the early part of the 20th Century, is the sad vision of a tree losing its last leaves.

Thus, of the 6,000 who once awaited the Second Appearing, two remain: Brother Arnold Hadd, 61, and Sister June Carpenter in her 70s, both of whom embody the Shaker spirit at their Sabbathday Lake community in New Gloucester, Maine.

I’ve heard more than a few cynics rail over the years: Well, if they were that good, what happened? And then they smirk because another communal experiment failed.

Nothing happened to the Shakers. They have given, and continue to give, America a viable model of community, especially Her early-21st-Century version buried in turmoil, alienation, and vindictive aggression.

We might want to amend many of the Shaker ascetic practices but never the hospitality they extended toward each other and those who came to them in need.  

After the fiery devastation that just took California — and the long drought before that — more than 50,000 people are looking for a home, a community to live in, a hook to hang their continuity on.

Can the care offered by an insurance company match the selfless hospitality a Shaker community affords? The model is there for the taking.

Dire climate-change forecasters say that fire, drought, flood, and related hurricane conditions will not cease but aggravate. And the measure of hardship will no longer be whether the rich on New York City’s Upper East Side, and their counterparts everywhere, will be able to score a grape or two from a surviving vineyard.

Section IV of Part II of the “Millennial Laws or Gospel Statutes and Ordinances Adapted to the day of Christ’s Second Appearing,” first prepared by Father Joseph Meacham and Mother Lucy Wright at their New Lebanon community in August 1821, contains an “Order of Christmas.”

It says that “on Christmas day Believers [and here we substitute Americans] should make perfect reconciliation, one with an other; and leave all grudges, hard feelings, and disaffection one towards an other, eternally behind on this day; and to forgive, as we would be forgiven, and nothing which is this day settled, or which has been settled previous to this, may hereafter be brought forward against an other.”

The Order then adds that Christmas Day is a time “to remember the poor of the world, and to carry to the place of deposit ... such garments and goods, as are designed for them.”

Do you think Meacham and Wright presaged the needs of Californians a Christmas 200 years later? Amid a discouraging moment or two I’m inclined to think the Second Appearing is already upon us.

Location:

— Rockwell Kent

For many years now, when Thanksgiving rolls around, I find myself thinking about gratitude.

“Plagued” might be a better word, in that folks, dead and alive, who have done “good” things for me over the years, enter my consciousness and demand attention.

They come in a parade of sorts and are persistent, but in no way Felliniesque. Perhaps you experience something similar.

I know the paraders are not there bodily — many are dead or live far away — but the result of introjection, my taking on the life of others from another world. I know it derives from a continuing sense of obligation and indebtedness.

That is, I remain emotionally whelmed (not over) by how generous people have been in freeing me of worries and debilitating burdens. One came to pump out my cellar during a hurricane, another jacked up the house to make it even again.

You can understand why I’m attached to these “creatures” in a dependent sort of way. They reflect an emotional connection — even though I’m still not able to define it. It’s related to humility though.

I said the paraders persist; they do not leave until acknowledged. They’re here this very moment; I think they’re behind me writing this.

At Thanksgiving dinner, sometimes the person saying grace touches on gratitude by mentioning someone who did something for the family, but always in passing. Folks at the table nod but want to get on with the meal.

I always want to know what lies at the base of that person’s gratitude, especially the connection between speaker and person mentioned. It would say so much about how people experience gratitude.

And I never heard gratitude mentioned at Thanksgiving dinner that wasn’t received with gratitude. It’s always heartfelt.

Because my parading “friends” show up seeking attention, every year I’m forced to withdraw for a bit to attend to their needs. It’s a retreat of sorts as I spend my time figuring out what I’m feeling. It used to be hit-and-miss; now it’s a calling.

I’m on retreat this very moment. And because of what the practice requires, Thanksgiving time has turned into a kind of New Year’s for me, a time to assess where I’m at and what resolutions I need to make to do things better.

I do not make resolutions exactly but I do examine the foundation stones I walk on and weigh the emotional solidity they afford, especially the gifts of those who’ve come before me.

Solidity is a good word. It sometimes shows in directives telling me how to live a healthier body-mind.

You can see it in my consciousness, in the language I use. Language is telltale, it always says where a person’s at maturity-wise, especially how gratitude fits into his life.

I could give you the name of every person in my parade this year — right down to a librarian who walks an extra mile for me almost daily — but you’d say I sounded like the Academy Awards.

If you read at all, you will have noticed the continuing flow of articles about gratitude in newspapers and magazines and on the Internet.

Whole sections of conferences are dedicated to understanding its transformative power. Scientists come with data on how gratitude metamorphizes.

I know that anyone who lives a mature spiritual life (non-pious-oozing) will tell you how intimately they are involved with gratitude, pointing to where it resides at their core.

The data I’ve collected say gratitude is reflected in a level of consciousness that can only be described as equanimous, a mind-set that allows a person to be at ease in the world — because he has solid foundation stones to stand on.

I know there are those with nothing and especially those whose mind nothing has control of, but they too are faced with issues of gratitude in their daily life; no one is exempt.

Taking the time to talk to the paraders is always a joy; a believer would call it a godsend. It’s like spending an afternoon with nine Carthusian monks at the heart of a fiery furnace.

I mentioned “spiritual life” before. Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu saints say gratitude is essential for living like a god on earth. St. Therese Lisieux said “Prayer is an aspiration of the heart ... a cry of gratitude and love in the midst of trial as well as joy.”

Do you buy that? Is gratitude that central to your life? It’s not something that can be bought or sold.

The neuroscientist Alex Korb, in his recent “The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time,” starts talking about how to deal with depression, and unhappiness generally.

Then toward the end he comes up with a startling revelation: Gratitude can reverse psychological (and physical) ill-being by rewiring that part of the brain (the anterior cingulate cortex) that controls our psychological elevator.

Who are you to believe, Therese or Korb?

The answer is both, because both are saying the same thing: There’s a level of consciousness where a person understands the importance of all the gifts given him and is thus transformed into a person of peace. Gratitude makes us stop poking other people’s eyes out.

The first person on my parade this year — and he’s been there for 40 years — is Kevin O’Toole, the builder from New Scotland. His unending intelligence in solving structural, electrical, plumbing, remodeling, and hurricane-effect problems has been a foundation stone for me and my family to walk on in peace.

He’s a portrait painter too.

I could say the same about Rich Frohlich, who ran a garage in Voorheesville for 40 years but Jim Giner and Bill Stone, two members of the Voorheesville Fire Department, keep tugging at my pen.

They’ve been walking in my gratitude parade since August 2011 when Irene flooded us out like a river. There was Jim in the middle of the darkened road, red wand in hand, waving cars by, battered by sideways needles of rain.

Then every few hours Chief Bill Stone appeared on our lawn to check the generator the department had set up, asking if we were alright.

At different times, when I saw Jim in Smitty’s, I’d treat him to a drink at the bar, a tiny gesture to help him (me) dry out from the storm.

This is how my Thanksgiving has begun this year. I wonder if you’re experiencing the same sort of thing.

Pages