The night before Thanksgiving, I painted my nails because I wanted to feel pretty.
I painted them black because black felt like armor against the order of gratitude.
Everyone seemed so preoccupied with reminding everyone else to be grateful (“because things could always be worse!“) that I couldn’t imagine they had enough time left over at the end of a long day cursing in traffic on the way to work after leaving fifteen minutes later than usual because just five more minutes! and sitting through an eight hour day cursing the fax machine, the copier, the printer, the telephone that wouldn’t stop ringing, the customers who didn’t even try, the coworker talking too loudly at the next desk, the supervisor who disappeared precisely when he was needed, the coffee in the break lounge, the schmuck who took their usual parking spot, the slow crawl out of the parking lot and into 4:30 afternoon traffic, the prick who cut them off and then proceeded to go exactly the speed limit for the next twenty miles, the overpacked lot in the grocery store, the basket because there are no more carts left, the ham because “how can you be out of turkey don’t you know it’s Thanksgiving?” the lines at the registers, the cashier who walked away at the end of her shift instead of helping you, the woman in front of you with a folio of coupons who insists “Sorry, sorry, there’s just one more!” and the sixteen-year-old cashier who didn’t smile when he said hello, who took your card without saying thank you, who handed you your receipt without saying have a nice night–even though you hate when people say things like that like they’re telling you what to do instead of wishing one for you, the snail’s pace crawl out of another parking lot, the bitch who doesn’t know how stop signs work, the mail that hadn’t been taken into the house the day before, the garbage bag still sitting by the door, the dishes in the sink, the light that keeps blinking in an out and in and out “like your patience.”
It is so hard to remember to be grateful when the only words you have to describe the world are cliches. It is so hard to remember to be grateful when nothing seems to be going the way you need it to go. But I was still able to put on my black nail polish. My black nail polish was my armor. My black nail polish kept my hands from shaking when they took yours for prayer. I don’t believe in prayers, but you do. I don’t believe in God, or gods, but I want at least one of them to be real because you do. I talk to him, or her, or them for you. I tell them how excited you are to see what they have in store for you, for me, for us.
Two weeks later, my black nail polish is chipping. I don’t feel pretty or armored today. We keep clinging to little things like nail polish and a good cup of coffee and a slice of cake with dinner even though we keep promising to eat healthier because we don’t know what tomorrow, or next Tuesday, or next weekend will bring us. We don’t know what the headlines will be in 2018.
I hope they will be kinder. I hope they will be reassuring–in the way twenty extra dollars in your bank account is reassuring, in the way opening the fridge and seeing your holiday meal ready for cooking is reassuring, in the way a table surrounded by friends and family and love love love is reassuring, not in the way that Nice People(TM) lie to reassure you, to keep you from panicking, to keep you from arguing, to make you feel unworthy and ungrateful when you ask for more.
For today, I will reapply my nail polish. I will tell myself that I am strong and pretty and safe, even though I do not feel strong or pretty or safe. I will be grateful for the filled seats at my table, grateful to have people I have loved strong enough to miss when they cannot take the empty seats. I do not need one day of the year to remind me to be grateful. I am grateful every day.