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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Off the grid: If cashmere could save the world

By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

I’m pretty sure most problems can be solved by a cashmere sweater. At least, the kind of problems a white girl with an artisan coffee habit in a gas-heated home in North Idaho has. The kind of problems we make for ourselves because we won the life lottery of sorts.

This is what I am thinking when I sit down to meditate on gratitude. That’s what I say in a resentful, bitter tone to my solipsistic teenagers. I sent them to the store for contact lens fluid and vegetables. They came back with a party-sized bag of potato chips.

“We couldn’t find the eye stuff,” they said as they handed me a receipt and my credit card.

“I’m going to go breathe in some abundance,” I force out between clenched teeth. “After all, it’s Thanksgiving.”

I’ve been meditating just long enough to know that enlightenment will not be achieved by me in this lifetime. And to develop a one-directional romantic relationship with the voice of some mindfulness instructor from Berkeley. My husband was getting suspicious so I told him meditation was like drinking a glass of wine.

“Well, no wonder you start and finish your day with it,” I thought I heard him mumble as my headphones silenced him and the crinkle of a chip bag.

I breathe in abundance and I breathe out thankfulness, like my meditation boyfriend, John, tells me. But all I can think about is how much I really need a new cashmere sweater and how much I hate toxic positivity in yoga classes.

“Remember, this is your practice,” says the girl who stepped out of a Vuori catalogue, “and some bodies are just not built to bend a certain way.”

Because mine is fat, I think, fondly remembering the scones that have become my morning ritual. Then I feel it: Gratitude! I breathe in quickly in an attempt to suck it from the air around me. Yes, I am grateful for scones. And oversized cashmere sweaters that hide the evidence of my pastry habit.

I want to be thankful. I am not lacking in awareness around or about the blessed life I live. I own several down jackets. Most of them are Patagucci. I live in the mountains. We do not have water shortages.

But someone just shot up an LGBTQ bar. Ukraine is dark at night. Qatar bought the World Cup and thousands of British fans are mourning the hangovers they’ll miss this year. A few hundred people got flattened in Indonesia. Being grateful seems a blatant waving of my privileged flag.

Not just the one I was born with, but the strange colors of the cosmos that have lately spared me debacle and disaster. There’s been no death or cancer diagnosis or burned down house. I can afford the therapy necessary to patch up the wounds of an arguably rad childhood. I’m waiting for the other karmic shoe to drop.

Worst of all, I don’t feel particularly grateful because I still need contact lens fluid and I don’t want sour cream and onion chips for dinner. The self-pity and shame about the self-pity are running deep this Thanksgiving. Sometimes I try to justify it by looking at what I had to pay for a pound of grass-fed ground beef.

What I need is a third-world experience. Instead, my inbox fills with ideas of other things I might need: a lifetime subscription to the Calm app (a true threat to my marriage at this point), a new Oura ring, the softest joggers ever, and that cashmere sweater with pockets. The promise of gratitude is just a click away.

Having so much to be thankful for makes me wonder when the universe is going to figure out its math was wrong and recalculate the spread of suffering. In that equation, fate and fairness have the same value.

If we were truly thankful for all we have been fated, would we recognize how unfair it all was? Is this what drives anxiety and depression in our youth now?

“You wouldn’t understand anyway,” my teen says of the struggles of teens. The problems they’ve created: Private schooling was awful, their iPhone is low on storage, and the eye-care aisle was too far away from the potato chip aisle.

I’d tuned out John’s soft soothe suggesting I slow down and feel deep into my pelvis. I was lost again in all the things I did not feel grateful for. I was complaining to myself about having to make two kinds of mashed potatoes. God forbid we have too many mashed potato leftovers. Even my abundance is a burden. Then it strikes me.

Our fortune is not chosen, but our misery is.

We collectively spend a lot of time, more emotional real estate than any of us would preferably admit, to choosing our miseries. We complain about having too much and nowhere to store it, our indigestion from overeating, our gas bills from overheating, and the price of cashmere. Our entire nation is going to spend the next several weeks causing a cascade of inflammatory damage (and a not surprisingly coinciding rise in heart attacks and strokes) scrambling for extended Black Friday sales.

If we can choose our misery, let’s be miserable about other people’s suffering rather than trying to identify ours. That is a cause we can do something about. This narcissistic attachment to our own troubles in an attempt to drown out the horrors of the world is a distraction from contributing to change. If we are blessed and living in fear that the universe will restore order, maybe that is the point: We are what has the power to bring balance. Be thankful at least for that. Then use your power. And I think it’s OK if some of it is spent on cashmere.

Ammi Midstokke can be reached at ammimarie@gmail.com

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