I have spent this month reading daily postings about what people are feeling, regarding Thanksgiving and gratitude. It has been an enjoyable journey into the lives, the hearts, the minds of the people I know, both online and off. Gratitude is such a funny thing because we all seem to take it, so, for granted. I know that I try to express my gratitude on a daily basis; it can get difficult, obviously. There are days when it just doesn’t seem possible, even fathomable, to feel grateful. However, recently, a friend told me that her own friend pulled her out of the doldrums with this comparison:
“You know how it feels when you do something nice for someone and they don’t say thank you? That’s how the universe feels when you choose to focus on what you don’t have, rather than the blessings you do.”
I have spent much of my life being unhappy and bitter, for whatever reasons. We all have them. Usually they are petty. As a child I hated my Asian heritage because I was discriminated against in school. Kids called me names. Gook. Jap. Slope. Chink. They didn’t care that each of those words applied to a different Asian country and that I, as a Filipino, was a Flip. All they knew was that I was different and bigotry knows no grammar. As a college student I hated being one of the lesser talented actors at the NorthTexasState drama department (and, before it, TarrantCountyJunior College). Someone else was always getting the roles that I wanted. As a New York City photographer I hated being less successful than the others. I was the photographer nobody would hire, no publisher would publish. As an adult gay male, I hated being overweight and under tall – I was invisible to the rest of the gay community (yes, the Asian thing also had something to do with that). I spent my life with bitterness and regret. I spent my life, until I grew up and recognized the futility of that. I spent my life, until I realized what there is for which to feel gratitude.
I have parents who love me, indeed, maybe even like me. We haven’t always seen eye to eye, sometimes we have infuriated each other, at times we have fought. We love each other, though, and are pleased to be associated. Not everyone gets this; indeed, I know those who cannot bear their parents. What a tragedy.
I have the chance to live in my favourite city in the world. There is no drawback to it, either. Maybe the MTA. No, no really. I don’t mean it. Maybe I do. Well, I do mean it when I say: the winters. It is, though, a testament to my love of New York that I will stay here, in spite of the cold.
I have my health. Not always the case… I’ve had broken bones and illness. Everyone has broken bones and illness. See your doctors, do what they advise, focus on your health and healing, rather than the whining. Health is the most important thing.
I have my body. Without it I cannot do my daily work, whether it be health and fitness related, art related, housework related, hospitality related. Without it I cannot fight for my rights, my country, my family. Without it I cannot dance.
I have my work. Not a great success at anything, I cannot say I have failed, entirely. I did make some wonderful art, collaborate with amazing people, publish a book of which I am quite proud. I have thrown some rather festive parties. I have helped some to reclaim a healthier, a happier lifestyle. I have had mentors and teachers who have made a difference in my schooling (notably, Stacy Schronk, who gave me the theater; Ray Scalvino, who gave me my love of exercise and Matthew Jenkins, who gave me my dream). I have the love of that work, a blessing, as so many do not love the work that they do. I had the terrifying task of working at a job where the employers treated, so badly, the employees that it felt assaultive; when they fired me, I was scared of poverty but relieved to be free from tyranny. To work where there is joy must never be taken for granted.
I have the luxury of being Asian, rather than Black. These last few days I have seen and read so many experiences of black people who have been racially profiled to the point of humiliation and harm that my anger over the bigotry shown me (as both an Asian and a gay man) seems quite petty.
I have the privilege of seeing times change during my life. Though that bigotry for gay people is strong, it is not as strong as it once was. Marriage Equality is upon us and I and my husband and our closest friends were a part of that fight. That’s not nothing.
I have the earth. I don’t know how to save it from man; so I will enjoy it while I can and do what I can to protect and save her.
I have my President and my First Lady. I do not understand the cruel and mean spirited people who work to bring them down. Rude people who disrespect the First Family to their faces ought to be ashamed of themselves. Whether a person agrees with their politics, it is not acceptable to heckle and boo your First Family. It is not acceptable to stand before your President and wag your finger in his face. Shame, shame, shame.
I have a home. Many do not. Sometimes it can feel as dilapidated as GreyGardens; but it is my home and I will treasure and protect it.
I have Rachel, who brings a smile to every day.
I have a family. Parents, siblings, nieces, nephews. I have a family of friends; best friends, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, collaborators, students, teachers. We can get on each others’ nerves. We can call on each other in times of crisis. We do not walk away from each other. My full on family includes babies – my own babies of dna and the babies of friends, babies who need to be held and smelled and listened to as they laugh and bill and coo. My full on family includes people I have known for decades and people I have known for months. They know that they are important to me because I will set aside my work and my recreation, my sleep and my time with my husband to be there for them, when they need me. I am there for them, more often than I am there for myself and they know it is because they are my priority. Family is above all else. Thank you, Mama.
I have my sobriety. Sometimes it has gone into a drawer for a day or two, for a month, for a year. It can be difficult when you are an emotional person, when you have been a pessimist, to keep your control over your sobriety. You may give in, for a time, but if you are lucky, you can get control, put it back on and live a life authentic to who you are. I am an alcoholic with unfulfilled potential; I have had reason enough to drink. I am also an optimist with unfulfilled potential; I have reason enough not to drink. I must remind myself, daily, that my family’s safety is at risk when I drink. So my constant companion, alcoholism, goes back in the drawer from whence cometh my sobriety and another day is battled, head on. None of this is possible without that family, the one that forgives my flaws and applauds the victories.
I have God. Not your God. Mine. We have a personal, an individual, a unique relationship. We speak every day; almost every moment of the day. My days are spent in a continual conversation with OB1, my greatest friend.
I have my husband. Sometimes, I awaken at 4am and go to work at the computer, writing, editing photos .. any work I can find to do. Every few hours, I go to our bed, crawl in and lie so close to him that we are like one, my right cheek resting on his shoulder. In this moment I feel safe. It lasts moments, before I must return to my work. Other times, I am beside him – on the street, on the sofa, in the car, on the train. I am rarely beside him without placing my hand in his. In this moment I feel safe. The truth is, there are many times when I am scared, when I am angry, when I am polarized, wondering how I will make it to the next gig, how I will keep us going on nothing, when will it be time for my dreams? Then I realize that I have my dream. I look at him, I look at our home, I look at our family and I know. My time is now.
Gratitude. It’s a daily thing. It is, in fact, a moment to moment thing. It is not to be taken lightly and not to be taken for granted. Today is Thanksgiving. People will overeat and feel ill and tomorrow they will kill others to save money at their holiday shopping. In this moment I am grateful that I have a mind and the ability to make a different choice. I will spend some time this morning in prayer and then I will go to work and make the rent; tomorrow I will go back to the gym and back to work. The entire time, though, I will be thinking of the things on this list and the people in my heart. I will have no trouble feeling gratitude. Not today. Hopefully not again. When I pray, among the things for which I pray, I say a prayer for clarity and I say a prayer of gratitude. It keeps me grounded. I stand in the light and look at my life, a life once filled with bitterness, anger, recrimination, and there I see a field of flowers made up of visual manifestations in my mind of the gifts I have been given. Some are places I have seen, some are people I have known; I see experiences I’ve enjoyed, travesties I have overcome. There are lessons I have learned and mistakes I have made; there are triumphs and there are tribulations. Each bloom is a blessing and the seeds that created them have grown inside of me to make me the man that I am today.
A man filled with gratitude.
This photo was done as the back cover photo for a cd I did ten years ago. It shows me, after a run, under the trees that make a gate to the road that leads home.