(I don’t know if I have ever written about my gratitude list.)
Every day I write a gratitude list. It’s an email list, ongoing for about the last five years. There is no rhyme or reason to it; no rules for the amount of things to be grateful for; it’s perfectly acceptable to throw in some “bratitude” if things aren’t going exactly as any of us might have hoped. We’re allowed to say anything on there and often do. For me it’s become a superstition of sorts. And by that I mean that I write one every day. EVERY DAY. Sometimes I am the only one who does and it’s just my little gratitudes floating alone in the swamp of everyones emails. It’s a ritual (that’s probably a better word than superstition) that I find comforting. I don’t think something bad will happen if I don’t write one, but I love the ritual, the day-after-dayness of writing it. It’s grounding. It’s nurturing. It’s helpful to me to have to find something, anything some days to be grateful for. And other days it feels so good to just be grateful and be heard.
I would have copied the list here as a header to what I want to write about, but I don’t generally spell-check or capitalize or worry about punctuation in any way. It’s ephemeral, it goes out the way I type it, the way it is in my head.
All of that is to say that I wanted to write about one of the things I was grateful for last night (I started this yesterday…)
Last Saturday an L.A. stalwart, native son and landmark in his own right, Jonathan Gold, died. He was a food critic for our local L.A. Weekly and he wrote for the L.A Times. He did a weekly guest stint on Good Food, a wonderful food show on KCRW, our local public radio station. He is the first and only food critic to receive a Pulitzer. If you aren’t aware of him, haven’t read him, I urge you to do so. It doesn’t matter the review because unless you live here you won’t try the restaurant. But he’s a food writer like M.F. K. Fisher or Calvin Trillin. He’s a writer who happens to write about food. And he has legendarily changed the L.A. food scene for good and for years. Here’s a lovely fact about him : he never wrote a bad review of a restaurant. He would just not review it. He wasn’t in the business of destroying careers, just enhancing them. And he did.
Yesterday was his birthday; a week after he died . KCRW did a 2 hour special Good Food full of remembrances and when the regular Saturday music show started it was all music about food in his honor. Last night the City of L.A paid tribute by lighting buildings all over up in gold, he really was beloved.
I loved him too, can you tell? I’ve been eating up the remembrances, the info. He started as a music writer and I have been reading old music reviews. And tonight I made dinner and sat down to watch a documentary about him, City Of Gold, as I ate my ridiculously unimaginative dinner (he just wouldn’t have reviewed it!).
Considering my love of all things Gold, I’m surprised I hadn’t seen the documentary before; nevertheless I was glad to see it streaming on HULU. And it was wonderful and I highly recommend it. It’s fascinating and says so much about L.A. and goes way deeper than the food scene and into the heart of who this man really was; as a native I connected deeply with his experiences of the city I love too.
But here’s the thing I wanted to write about (yes, I know, all the above info was some sort of context.) At the very end of the documentary, over the last few pages of credits, the film maker has some footage of Gold with his wife and 2 kids, cooking dinner in their home. It’s incredibly ordinary, or, I suppose, as ordinary as that could be with a film crew watching. But it moved me to tears for several reasons.
The first was just the ordinary of it. Here was a man who had a great talent. He lived, had a home, a wife, kids. He had a job that he did spectacularly well. And he is dead.
I watched and felt such a rush of gratitude that I have some moments of Tom living that I can look at, play back. That can make me smile or cry, usually both. Jonathan EXISTED, as did Tom
And then I just cried for his family. Because I know a couple of things. One is that they won’t want to watch that ordinary dinner, not really, any time soon. Their lives have been turned upside down relatively unexpectedly. They’re grieving and that’s forever, right? I know that, the same way any of you do who live with that dead person hanging around the peripherary of your life today, whether they died months or years ago. But they don’t know that for sure yet. They feel the immediate loss; it’s the later, deeper losses that we come to terms with that convince us, deeply, that they are gone forever.
The other thing I know is that one day they will be SO grateful that they have that film, and, especially, that end scene. That ordinary day happened. They ate food together. they loved each other. There is nothing like that.
I am reminded of Our Town and the wise Mrs. Gibbs telling Emily to choose an ordinary day, “the least important day of your life. It will be important enough”. I know that feeling. If I could have one more day with Tom it wouldn’t be anything special or fancy. We would talk and laugh and make dinner and eat . We would be ordinary, we’d just be together.
I cried because I could be grateful for them right now, grateful that they have that record of their lives as it once was, as it will never be again but as it was. It was real. The relationships were real; it happened. He existed. They existed.
That deep grief will inch over into gratitude as they adjust, and this footage will be a huge part of it. I was moved that I could see that, even though they surely don’t now; not yet.
And so I wrote that as one of my gratitudes last night. A reminder to myself and to those women that I email with that today IS all we have. That we can be grateful for the smallest and largest things. That we may not to be able to see the gratitude in the moment, but that it will reveal itself at some point when we are ready for it. (Me, me, me! I’m reminding my own self first!)
I will miss Jonathan Gold. I am so sad for his wife Laurie and their children. I am so sad for me and Wonder Boy. We have all lost someone so important. but we have proof that it happened, that they were here. Tom was a writer too, he had a way with words and I have a number of things he wrote. But the proof in the footage is what I, and surely one day, they will find miraculous in it’s ordinary-extraordinariness.
RIP Jonathan. RIP Tom.
When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.
When great trees fall
small things recoil into silence,
eroded beyond fear.
When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.