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Extending Gratitude Throughout and Beyond the Holidays

Kat Brail | Family Care Coordinator

Spending last Thanksgiving in the field under the winter sky, seeking warmth in a tipi, and cooking our turkey over the fresh split wood in the fire made for an unforgettable day. Sure—it was unique, yet these moments pop up in “everyday life” as well. They become moments and days seared into your memory.

I vividly recall holiday dinners throughout my childhood as clearly as I remember last year’s Thanksgiving in the field… Historically, each year on Thanksgiving, my mother had us all go around and say what we were grateful for. My siblings and I would answer quickly and bashfully, circling back around to mother in just a moment’s time. She would clear her throat, take a deep breath, and say a sweet, motherly, heartfelt “grateful”. She would maybe even shed a tear if we were lucky. I always appreciated my mother’s depth in moments like these but never quite emulated it. Until…last year, as a field guide at Open Sky.

Guides practicing gratitude
Kat (right) and fellow guide Kali, December 2019

It was Thanksgiving Day, and I was sitting in a “group space” with my young adult team. It was the first time I cried in front of a team of students. In that moment sitting with my team around the fire, I’m sure I sounded a lot like my mother did around the dinner table each year. Heart full, emotions fully realized, expressing myself in a way that previously might have felt ingenuine. It turned out to be a moment that drew me closer to that group of students and my own gratitude.

In this specific group on Thanksgiving, we were sharing gratefuls, family and cultural traditions, “I feel” statements—the whole gamut of Open Sky practices! And I remember thinking, opening up like this so genuinely has become second nature to us out here in wilderness. Yet, many people reserve conversations like this for that one day each year designated for thankfulness; when each family member shares a gratitude at the dinner table in a quick, embarrassed, and obligatory manner. I went home after that shift deciding to make this a more prevalent and significant practice in my life.

I started asking my friends to share gratefuls with each other at group gatherings. Awkward at first, yet a healthy practice that brought smiles to our faces and drew our relationships closer. The first time I asked this, we had a moment to look around at each other and take a private inventory, then give a more public account of how we felt about our lives and each other. Some laughed and playfully mocked me, much like I imagine happens to parents of resistant children. But they too could not help but smile when they got a real moment to express their gratefuls. For some, just telling another you are grateful for them can be terrifying, uncomfortable, and new. With a little persistence in the practice, it is hard to avoid the rush of positive emotions that follow when hearing your table of family and friends share.

Gratitude in the field
Kat (left) and fellow guide Calley in the field, January 2020

We can all use a little help brightening up our days, especially wrapping up this year. I hope you and your family will join mine in acknowledging and expressing our gratitude no matter what the source. I encourage you to get uncomfortable and extend gratitude beyond the Thanksgiving table. Maybe it is in the moment, maybe it is at the table. Hitting pause and sharing vulnerably can happen in the big moments just as simply as the everyday moments.  How will you incorporate gratitude into this next season?

I am grateful to the students who helped change my perspective and practice last Thanksgiving and every day since.

December 7th, 2020

Kat Brail | Family Care Coordinator