Six Things I'm Thankful For This Year
Written by
regina barreca
December 2016
Written by
regina barreca
December 2016

What's the most unlikely thing in your life for which you give genuine and frequent thanks? What surprises you about your gratitude?

We know we should be grateful for whatever health we possess, whatever prosperity we enjoy and whatever cable or streaming devices to which we have access.

Yet, paradoxically, it's at those moments when the universe seems to let us down that we gain our most significant strengths.

In celebration of Thanksgiving, I've picked six items for which I'm thankful, not in any order but all equally heartfelt. Caveat: The heart has many chambers and these come from different sections.

1 — I am not only grateful, but gleeful, to have coffee in the morning. Usually it's the only coffee I drink all day, so I never take it for granted. And if I don't have it, or if I am slipped a decaf by mistake, I am ungrateful. I am ungrateful in the way that the Borgias, Vlad the Impaler and Cujo are ungrateful.

2 — I'm grateful that I didn't die in a beautiful, blue bed-sit room with high ceilings in London when I was 22. I came close. I'd just moved out of an ex-boyfriend's apartment into a truly lovely Victorian house on a quiet street in a decent neighborhood, complete with a shared bath, kitchen privileges and close to the bus.

A friend with a car helped me, not that there was much literal baggage. I'd packed my clean but worn charity-shop clothes into an old suitcase and, along with an Edwardian glass lamp, a frying pan and a good pillow, filled the boot of his Morris Minor. We carried everything up one flight of stairs. He plugged in an electric kettle he was lending me until I got one of my own and we had a cup of tea before he left. While he was willing to be helpful, he was not going to be responsible. Fair enough.

I spent one night in that room. The story and symptoms are too familiar to need elaboration: I felt so entirely abandoned that the incident aroused in me an eviscerating, infantilizing and overwhelming feeling of loss. I was frantic with limitless loneliness, chaos and pain. These had been nascent, of course. The break-up was the occasion, not the cause, of my mind's wildness. I felt like my head was full of bees or creatures with wings. I literally didn't believe the sun would ever rise. But it did.

I swear to this day that I heard a voice within myself saying, "Leave. Leave now." And I swear to this day it was my older self addressing my younger self. Leave is what I did, right away, asking the friend who moved me into the apartment to pack my things and mail them to me in New York to a one-bedroom apartment where my father had moved. I remain grateful I had a place to return. Not everybody does. But I am more grateful that I listened to the inner voice insisting I fight the heavy, imploring despair that whispered to me it would be easier and less exhausting if I'd only give up.

3 — I am grateful for clean public restrooms. Finding a reliably clean public restroom in a major city is like discovering a pot of gold, only it's porcelain. If the soap and paper towel dispensers work, I'm so thankful I want to burst into a chorus of "If My Friends Could See Me Now."

4 — I am grateful for people who talk and write clearly, directly and unapologetically. Life is short. Tell me what you mean.

5 — I am grateful that some of what might have been my alibis became some of my strengths. My sense of isolation became a fierce desire to create and be connected to communities; my anxiety spurred me to learn that help of various kinds is available and real, if occasionally tough to navigate and manage. My fears taught me that even if they can't be entirely overcome, they can usually be faced and sometimes outwitted.

6 — I'm grateful that America has a holiday dedicated to reminding us that shared gratitude — along with a side dish of generosity — should be served, liberally, at every table.

Gina Barreca is an English professor at UConn and author of "If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse?" and eight other books. She can be reached at

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