Since the start of my childhood, Nov. 1 meant the hanging of a quilt from the stove in my kitchen. It was my mom’s “Thankful Quilt,” decorated with felt leaves, turkeys and other Thanksgiving-esque patches. More importantly, the quilt was lined with little pockets numbered one through 30 — a pocket for each day of the month. And every night, before eating dinner, my mom would have my sister and I write down what we were thankful for that day on tiny paper cards that tucked perfectly into the little felt slots. We did it each day until all 30 were filled and then tucked the quilt away for hibernation until the following November.
Our Thankful Quilt became such a routine part of our Novembers that the process came without much thought. Sometimes I’d put genuine effort into my day’s thankful card. Others, I’d scribble something down on the paper to expedite the commencement of the meal. If nothing else, the Thankful Quilt was familiar — it was tradition.
Last year was my first November away from home, yet I never thought about the quilt. I simply didn’t have the mental capacity to reminisce. At that time, I was preoccupied with the announcement that the freshman dorms were closing due to the uncontrollable COVID-19 spread. I was running around Ann Arbor trying to find housing for my second semester at the University of Michigan. I was worried about the friends I had made thus far, or lack thereof, and how my social life would play out with common areas unavailable to us. I was anticipating the nearly two-month break that was approaching, where the progress I had made in pioneering my pandemic-era first semester of college would be halted, maybe even reversed. I was operating in fight-or-flight, running on autopilot as a defense mechanism; thus, the Thankful Quilt didn’t grace my thoughts.
This year, with life more settled, the treasured novelty made its return into my concerns. On Nov. 1, I thought about the bare stove at home, which, on this day, was usually made merrier. I filled out a mental card and tucked it into a mental Nov. 1 pocket: “I’m thankful that I’m calm enough this year to think about our quilt.”
The minute of gratitude felt like progress, for sure. I am infinitely grateful that now, come November, it doesn’t necessarily feel like the world is crumbling in on me. That I have certainty of my near future and a sense of purpose here at this school. Now I realize how much our circumstances can impact what we’re grateful for, what matters to us, what’s relevant, and what we feel lucky to have as ours. All of this can change in just one revolution around the sun, one November to the next.
While I’m no longer in a state of fight-or-flight, my life is still extremely hectic — just in a “normal life” sort of way. So are most students’ day-to-days here at the University. We’re running to classes, extracurriculars, social events and meetings. We’re navigating flu season, midterms and course scheduling. No one sits us down before dinner to make us pause and think. No one straps us to a chair and forces us to come up with something we’re thankful for before we’re able to receive our mobile order from Chipotle on State Street.
But I feel like we’re the ones who need a Thankful Quilt the most, even more so than our 8-year-old selves. Currently, at the University, we’re experiencing some of the most unique, rewarding, exciting years of our lives. But often, we’re too caught up in the everyday bustle to take note of what’s happening around us. As we run from classes to meetings, submit one assignment to Canvas and begin the next, we lose sight of the forest for the trees. That we need to stop and smell the roses may be cliché, but it’s cliché for good reason.
I have lots of anxiety, and I admittedly do complain a lot on a daily basis. But thinking about even how much I’ve grown and learned since August, or how much I have to be grateful for this year that would have been missing from my paper cards last year, things are looking, overall, pretty positive. I should be taking inventory more often to notice such a fact. I should be filling out a thankful card each and every night.
Moreover, we should notice and applaud what’s happening in our lives right now, before all of a sudden we’re putting on shorts again. Better yet, before we’re putting on a cap and gown, or even more daunting, professional clothes for our adult-life jobs.
Even though I let a handful of days slip through the cracks, about three days ago I decided I would re-implement the Thankful Quilt into my daily practice. Before allowing myself to indulge in my dinner, whatever and wherever it is, I’ve been pausing to write a mental card and place it in a mental pocket. On Nov. 8, I was thankful that I’m living in a sorority house with friends I’ll have for the rest of my life. On Nov. 9, I was thankful that I have such a well-rounded slew of classes and extracurriculars that are rewarding to me. I was grateful for Parents Weekend on Nov. 10 and Thursday nights out on Nov. 11. Come Nov. 12, I was grateful that we can now go to basketball games at the Crisler Center.
I called my mom alerting her of my practice, and she revealed that she’d saved the cards my sister and I had written growing up. Dug out from the bottom of a drawer, they read: “I’m thankful for Eggos pancakes;” “I’m thankful that we have medicine;” “I’m thankful that I have time to practice my dance routine for Sunday;” “I’m thankful for sweatpants;” and “I’m thankful that we get to visit Michigan this weekend.”
Ironically, not much has changed. While I’m newly thankful to be secure in how to navigate a college campus, for Thursday nights out and for weeks without too much work, I’m still thankful for Eggo pancakes, and I’m always happy about a day spent in sweats. Coincidentally enough, I have a hip-hop team performance on Saturday and am still thankful that I’ve had enough time to practice for it. And obviously, I am thankful that I now go to Michigan and am here every weekend.
We should always be grateful for those nuts and bolts that withstand changing circumstances; like family, good health, and of course, sweatpants. But changing or static, whether we’re 10 or 20, it’s the stepping back, seeing the big picture and acknowledging our blessings that matters. Because life moves quickly — as quickly as the slots on the Thankful Quilt fill up, and as quickly as I grew up and am no longer home to partake in the activity.
Luckily, I’ll be home soon for Thanksgiving break to fill out pre-dinner thankful cards. But until then, and maybe even after, I think I’ll continue filling out my mental ones. Tonight, I am thankful for tradition, for the quilt itself. Of all my years slipping cards into those felt pockets, I never gave thanks to their reliable, yearly presence over my stove. I think my thanks is long overdue. Our little family ritual taught me to value the moment and what I have in it. And while I can’t carry the Thankful Quilt with me, I can certainly carry its teachings.
Statement Correspondent Lilly Dickman can be reached at email@example.com.