It may be a stretch to feel grateful this Thanksgiving. 2020 abounds with emotional pain for most of us. Economic and physical suffering or even death are touching so many of us. In the “divine economy,” our suffering can be louder than our gratitude.
In my quiet time, I am frequently reminded that we need each other. Whether we like it or not, we are all now part of a closely connected world community. Our diseases, our ideas, our love and our hate spread quickly around the globe.
As I approach Thanksgiving, I am struck by the similarity in intent in these two words – Thanksgiving and gratitude. We give thanks. It is an action, a free action that becomes a gift. The word gratitude comes in part from the Latin word “gratia” which means grace, graciousness or gratefulness. It is a close cousin to “gratis,” which means free, and “gratus,” which means pleasing or welcome.
A few days after Halloween, I received an unexpected gift that filled me with gratitude. Two nearby neighbor girls, ages 4 and 6, knocked on our door. I was surprised to see them, and more surprised they were without a parent. After an awkward moment, the 6-year-old took out her virus protection mask and put it on. Her little sister reached in her pocket and did the same. I excused myself and retrieved my mask.
As I opened the door, the older child presented me with a hand-made card. It had pictures of unicorns, pumpkins, leaves and other reminders that Halloween had just passed and autumn was here. She explained each drawing to me. Inside was a thank you for the Model Magic my wife Geraldine had given them in lieu of Halloween candy.
The younger sister handed me her card. It was simpler, with one big drawing and a short thank you. She explained that her drawing was of a heart. As she finished speaking, her older sister proudly explained, “That’s the first time she has drawn a heart.”
My eyes moistened as I took in the preciousness of the moment and the simple, unpretentious gift of love that these two girls were offering me.
I emailed their mom to thank her and tell her how sweet and kind the girls had been. I commented I was amazed the girls were confident enough to come alone. Their mom explained that she wanted to come with them and the older girl insisted they could do this without her! The mom was watching from her window.
As I continued to bathe in this amazing moment, it caused me to recall other precious moments with my grandkids, children, wife and friends. In sharing this story with a friend, she pointed out that love showed up at my door. She wondered out loud how often she and all of us miss the tender moments of love and kindness that come our way each day.
Practicing gratitude can become a habit. For me, it is a habit that helps me recognize and savor the many precious moments every day. When I am tired from doing too much or cranky from worry, my capacity for gratitude diminishes.
Like any habit, the practice of gratitude takes commitment and repetition over time. A quick Google of the science of gratitude will bring you to a compelling case for practicing gratitude.
A Harvard Health article, Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier, explains how we may approach gratitude differently. Sometimes the focus is on past moments, others the present or projecting gratitude into a future event. This same article offers practical examples of how to cultivate the habit of gratitude: writing thank you notes, offering mental thanks to someone, keeping a gratitude journal, picking a regular time to count your blessings and praying and meditating about moments that trigger thanks.
Summer Allen, writing for the Greater Good Center at UC Berkeley, has produced a 72-page paper with a helpful Executive Summary that goes deeper on the meaning and types of gratitude and the benefits. Besides the perhaps obvious individual benefits of feeling better and living less stressfully, Allen talks about gratitude as a “social glue” and outlines the social benefits of gratitude in relationships and workplaces. It is not hard to imagine this social glue as a boon to reconnecting neighbors and communities.
We are at a time where it is very easy for me and most people to pick sides and focus on what isn’t right in the other and the world. Thanksgiving is an invitation to extend our gratitude beyond this holiday to our community and world.
We all have tender moments knocking at our door. I can’t help but wonder if we could make use of them in a way that brings about a world full of grateful people.