In the book Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman, we read about the psychological benefits of saying thank you. He calls them “gratefuls”, a good daily ritual that can help make you healthier.
And so, as a kind of prayer, I try to look back on my day and find three things for which I can be grateful. This daily exercise is supposedly helpful in making us more resilient, and –dare I say it – happier.
Sometimes I recall an exchange with a customer, and how fortunate I feel that it went well, or at least didn’t go horribly wrong. I will recall something a staff member did and thank my lucky stars for that person and for their contribution. I may simply recall a moment when i narrowly escaped a car accident, or a lunch with my daughter or a phone call with my Mom, or a beautiful piece of music I heard performed. The more you do this as a habit, the more automatic one’s sense of gratitude.
Today is the day my friends are calling “American Thanksgiving”. Canada has its own harvest festival roughly 10 days into October, given our shorter growing season. Both countries had Thanksgiving celebrations at diverse times of year, until the American holiday was fixed in 1863; in comparison our own festival only goes back to 1957. I associate the holiday with a series of funny movies, as Hollywood does very well sending up the seriousness of the season:
- Planes Trains & Automobiles, starring John Candy & Steve Martin
- Home for the Holidays, starring Holly Hunter & Robert Downey Jr.
- Addams Family Values… for that wonderful thanksgiving pageant where the Indians –particularly the revisionist Pocahontas played by Christina Ricci– decide not to trust the pilgrims
Last night I saw Last Holiday, a movie that seems perfect for the more serious sort of reflection one may make at Thanksgiving, whichever version you see. In its 2005 version, Georgia (Queen Latifah) is a woman who has been told she will die within a few weeks. She decides to enjoy her final days, quitting her job and blowing her money in a last holiday. The film enacts that old saying “live each day as if it were your last day”. Georgia begins to astonish people because she’s lost her fear. It’s funny because of course we’re all going to die, but don’t know when. Who would expect that knowing you’re about to die might be liberating, and that enjoying right now could actually be spiritual?
One of the marvels of the film is to watch the scenes with food. Georgia enters into ecstatic dialogues with Chef Didier (played fulsomely by Gérard Depardieu) concerning food and the enjoyment of life. The joy they take in preparing and consuming food is like a lesson in the meaning of life. The film is a sentimental echo of La Grande Bouffe, a much darker film from the 1970s, where the ruminations on hedonism, life and death are much more extreme.
The gentler pleasures of Last Holiday were just what I needed to put me in the mood for being taken to lunch at the Gallery Grill. Oh boy, another reason to feel grateful. Before Michelle and I began our meal, we had the pleasure of perusing a menu as rich in its way as the bounty of our wonderful country.
I opted for a hefty portion of something called “Sherry-spiked lamb soup”. I was reminded that sometimes extracts and reductions are better than the original. I remember as a boy being disappointed that no apricot matched the intensity of a dried apricot. Similarly this soup gave me the angelic essence of the lamb, idealized in the warm glow of sherry. Michelle had a tour-de-force of a salad, leaving us wondering how they shaved the zucchini so thin as to justify being called “ribbons”; I know they didn’t use a slap-chop.
For mains we again diverged. My whitefish rested atop a spicy apple salad in thin slivers and tiny cubes of boar bacon, a tower that was as impressive for its architecture as for the unexpected harmony of the tenants. Michelle’s Porchetta (a clever trick to subvert kosher rules… are you allowed to eat pork if you give it a fancy name?) rested on an unlikely foundation of beans and warm rapini salad.
And to finish I had several flavours of sorbet & ice cream to choose from, opting for
- pralines & cream
- roasted apple with lavender
- rhubarb sorbet
I came away very happy to be alive, and not just because I was high on the sugar and several coffees. Thank you Gallery Grill. Thank you Michelle. As Georgia might have said, “Thank you Lord, for letting me see another day.”