Commusings: Great Fullness by Jeff KrasnoNov 26, 2022
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Hello Commune Community,
T’is the season. I hope you find a moment of respite, experiment with a new recipe or two and congregate with friends and family around the communal table. It’s a time to reflect and cultivate gratitude for the miracle of life’s simple gifts.
Last week, I had the marvelous opportunity to interview filmmaker, Louie Schwartzberg, on the release of his new piece de resistance titled Gratitude Revealed. The documentary has inspired me to move beyond the social media memes and quote cards and excavate this somewhat elusive emotion. I’ve been asking myself questions like, “How do we leverage gratitude practices to move from “state gratitude” (a transitory feeling of thankfulness) to “trait gratitude” (a permanent type of gratefulness that becomes part of our bottom-up behavior). Hmmm…
I poke at the “great fullness” of gratitude in this week’s memoriam of my beloved Nana.
Here at [email protected] and doing my best on IG @jeffkrasno.
In love, include me,
• • •
Thanksgiving reminds me of my grandmother – who now resides outside of the vacillations of space and time. Every Turkey Day, our family flocked to her sprawling condo in North Miami. Oh, how I relished these trips, crossing off days on the calendar in anticipation.
My Nana, Adeline, was a red head; vibrant, gregarious and scrappy by necessity. She was the jalapeno cheddar in the middle, sandwiched by two sisters of tantamount feistiness and loquacity. Schuyler and I know intimately how three sisters maneuver with a certain benevolent deviousness. This good-spirited rascality is embedded in Jewish culture as the yetzer hara, the belief that, within every human, there is wily, scheming nature.
Nana was known for her colorful, unapologetic mixed metaphors and occasionally brilliant, albeit generally unintentional, turns of phrase.
For many years, she would take me to (the appropriately named) Rascal House, a classic Jewish deli for lunch. Heaping piles of steaming pastrami on marbled rye bread topped with sauerkraut and a schmear of mustard. Heaven on earth! Then, one year, the restaurant fell out of favor with Nana.
I queried her, “Why don’t we go to Rascal House anymore?”
She quipped, “Oh honey, nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
Years later, I discovered this was a Yogi Berra quote, but I guarantee she believed that she coined the phrase. Her other turns were less adroit. When I was bemoaning a poor grade in algebra, she consoled me, “Jeff, honey, you must let the cards roll where they may.” She considered George W. Bush “not the sharpest cookie in the jar.” When complimented for her extraordinary noodle kugel, she might rejoin, “It’s not rocket surgery!”
Nana made a habit of getting up early to enjoy the sunrise. She so savored the sun’s warmth on her skin.
“The sun is so grateful for me,” she remarked jovially.
“Nana, I think you mean you are so grateful for the sun.”
“Oh no, honey, you see the sun has no needs. And, in her ‘great fullness,’ she overflows with generosity. She just gives.”
I would never pretend that Nana was a poet, but Hafiz seemed to land on a similar sentiment.
Even after All this time. The Sun never says to the Earth, "You owe me."
Look what happens. With a love like that, it lights the whole sky.
The sun gives unceasingly and without condition. Indeed, gratitude and generosity are highly correlated. Gratitude is also associated with subjective well-being, satisfaction with one’s life, strong social bonds, purpose, an ability to cooperate and self-acceptance. Moreover, gratitude is viral in nature. A recipient is more likely to dole it out.
When I have trouble summoning an appreciation for life’s gifts, I ponder this:
93 million miles away, in our ‘grateful’ star, the fusion of two hydrogen nuclei birth a helium atom and in so doing emit a photon of light energy. Eight minutes later this packet of electro-magnetic radiation enters our wee planet’s atmosphere and finds a chloroplast on the leaf of an apple tree. This tryst catalyzes the process of photosynthesis in which a plant takes carbon dioxide from the air, water from its roots and converts solar energy into chemical energy. Coded by its genomics, the tree leverages this chemical energy to produce a most delicious, if forbidden, fruit that grows conveniently at just the right height for you to pick.
Just looking at the juicy ripe apple makes you salivate. Digestion starts with your eyes. Biting into the fruit begins an unlikely and circuitous process of unlocking the sun’s energy inside of you. Carbohydrates get absorbed into the bloodstream and, through cellular respiration, your mitochondria (erstwhile bacteria that have taken residency as the power plant organelles in your cells) produce ATP.
Humans metabolize food, thus transferring chemical energy to mechanical energy. This enables my motor neurons to yoke with my intention and type this essay or move my lips to tell Schuyler, “I love you.”
And this utterance causes her tear ducts to well up and the corners of her lips to curl upwards. Certain genes turn on and assemble amino acids into the right proteins that make the neuromodulator oxytocin. This makes her feel warm inside.
The by-products of this unlikely phenomenon are carbon dioxide and water, which cycle back into the air and the soil and the trees in a wonderous loop.
And think … the systems that cooperate in this elaborate dance are made up of self-assembled atoms whose provenance is stardust. The only appropriate response to this improbable miracle is … gratitude.
In many ways, Nana served as our family’s solar center. We orbited around her faithfully and she lit up our lives and gave without expectation. Filling our cups gave her a great fullness.
When asked why she was so happy, in typical form, she’d mix up the words and, simultaneously, deliver poignant wisdom.
“I want everything I have.”
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