I ran out of steam after profile number thirteen today, which posed quite a problem for my NaBloPoMo commitment. My dilemma is this: what do I write, when my mojo is buried under profiles for the likes of a thirty-something gamer looking for a girlfriend who shares his love of gory video games and “getting frisky”?

Luckily, I have very kind and insightful friends, and many of them responded when I posted on this on Facebook:

I have zero inspiration to blog this evening, but I’ll be damned if I break my ‪#‎NaBloPoMo streak. Anyone care to suggest a topic/provide a prompt to get me started? I can repay with eternal gratitude and maybe cookies once I bake for Christmas.

Now I have many, many suggestions that I’ll use in subsequent posts through the month. But this one, from my friend Debi, really struck me:

What eternal gratitude means and how you can’t really pay back people for the things that mean the most.

When I  read Debi’s post, I first thought about how, a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about words and reverence. Since then I’ve been trying to think more before I write, though my process hasn’t changed much. I’m still a late-night last-minute writer, and I rarely edit. What you see posted here is a stream of consciousness brain dump of sorts; I hope it makes sense, but I often question if it does.

I’ve said more than once that my gig of writing dating profiles has made me realize that we often use the same words, but we speak different languages. Ask two people to define the word “adventurous” and you’ll get two different responses. Some say they are adventurous because they try a new restaurant every other Friday. Others think it means keeping a packed bag and updated passport at the ready, just in case fares to Paris drop at the last minute. Most of the time, though, we collectively assume that we know what others mean, so we don’t clarify and only realize later that even though we thought we had a discussion, we never really talked at all.

So I know that many of us are throwing around the same words but I don’t always know if we mean the same thing. When I pledged eternal gratitude, I did mean just that; but not in an overt, including-a-footnote-in-every-single-prayer-I-utter-from-here-on-out kind of way.

When I think of the things for which I am most grateful—my kids, my dad, the memory of my grandma telling me about the day I was born—I am often overwhelmed with the realization of never being able to adequately reciprocate. I’ve always thought that what Debi said is absolutely right: we can’t really pay people back for things that mean the most.

Now, though, I don’t know if that’s really true. I’m thinking of this in the context of being a daughter. There is absolutely no way I could ever practically repay my dad for everything he’s done for me, for the sacrifices he’s made for me, for the love he’s given me. I don’t think he’d even want me to repay him, at least not in the traditional sense.

I think the best way I can repay him is to think of him every day and to smile when I do. I think that sharing stories with my kids about the wonderful things he’s done or the funny things he’s said is a form of gratitude. I think that going to church early and lighting a candle as I invoke Anne Lamott and whisper my own version of thanks and wow for the stroke of luck that made me his daughter is gratitude.

Even when she's not here, she's with me.

Even when she’s not here, she’s with me.

When my grandma was still with us she used to stuff five dollar bills in my pocket when we’d go to visit. I always resisted, until my dad and stepmom told me that giving five dollar bills made my grandma happy, and that I should stop fighting and let her be happy. I think that those five dollar bills were her way of going out into the world with us when she knew she otherwise wouldn’t, and now that she’s gone, I try to bring her along in other ways. Today I wore one of her old scarves. Other days I wear a necklace with a perpetual adoration charm that she gave me so long ago. Some nights I wrap beads around my hand and say the rosary.

Maybe these actions aren’t technically repayment, but I choose to believe that they are forms of gratitude. My eternal gratitude for friends who hop on and contribute ideas to my tired brain will, I hope, be repaid with a kindness when they ask for help with something. I hope my gratitude will show when I send a surprise package to someone just because I want to do something nice, or when I spring for lunch because I can, or when I tell someone they simply have to read the post that a friend wrote because it’s lovely and wise and inspiring and it deserves more attention that a thumbs up on Facebook.

Acts of kindness to honor acts of kindness, linked together like stapled paper garland on a Christmas tree, without a beginning or an end. That’s my definition of eternal gratitude.

I am participating in NaBloPoMo, and posting everyday this month.

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