Being Grateful Isn’t Natural. Nor Easy.
It’s a lot easier to find fault — with something, someone or even oneself.
That’s because there is nothing perfect in the world. Ever.
We all have our ideas about what a perfect world should be like. But they are all the substance of fairy tales.
We all know this, even though we hope and act as if things ought to be more like our “ideal world.” And we are upset when they aren’t.
Isn’t that beginning from a belief that there must be something perfect from which things have taken a tumble?
Where do we get the idea that things should come up to our ideal?
Isn’t it far more realistic to see that the world, and all that is in it, begins in utter chaos and jungle mentality?
Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to be amazed at how much better things are now than they are in different times and places?
Is it not a wonder that we’ve got the Internet and Google when just fifty years ago we barely had good TV? And a hundred years ago almost no one but the very rich had an auto?
Isn’t it something that we go to a market and can buy fresh fruits and vegetables all year round? Or at least frozen fruits and vegetables?
Just eighty years ago, when I was a boy, we could only get fresh fruits and vegetables during our local harvest seasons. Period. Unless you wanted them canned or dried.
At fourteen I had my appendix removed. I got blood poisoning and was miraculously saved by penicillin, which just a year or two before that had been discovered.
It saved my life, when a few years earlier my father’s best friend died from the exact same blood poisoning. No penicillin!
Don’t we, hour by hour, daily take an awful lot for granted. And don’t we get really hot under the collar when a hitch in the getalong interrupts the miraculous network of people and events that keeps us safe, healthy, well fed and entertained?
It’s a Wonder!
I just finished eating a bowl of cereal. It was Raisin Bran — bran flakes, raisins, sugar and (I added) pecans.
I tried to imagine what it took for that cereal to get into my bowl this morning.
It had a journey along a line of people connected in a safe way to plant, gather, thresh, shell, dry, package, carry to market, on to the cooks, combined, packed it ready for shipping, trucked to warehouses, then to stores, someone buying and carrying it to my home where I opened it, filled my bowl and poured milk on it.
There also had to be the same sort of network of folks who raised the feed, cared for the cow that gave the milk, homogenized, bottled, sold, shipped, shelved it at the market where it was bought and brought to my home so that I could pour it upon my cereal.
When I think of all the wonder, that this network had functioned uninterrupted up to this morning, I had to be grateful for the cereal I was fortunate to eat.
The Network of Miracles
It is easy for us to take all this for granted.
And when there is the slightest glitch in the process we quickly find fault with someone or something upon which to fix the blame.
Today our world is full of the blame game with barely a nod to the grateful.
Most of our forefathers (yes, and foremothers) were far more willing to express their gratitude for this process of bringing it all together. Mostly because the wheels of the system weren’t as well greased and the process did break down from time to time.
They usually attributed its smooth functioning to “God.” Not that they thought there was really Someone Big up there in the sky moving the pieces around to make it all happen. My grandparents were a good bit more sophisticated than that. And I suspect most others were as well.
Rather, I am sure they felt there was more of a Gargantuan Something, a sort of intelligence, behind it all, that enabled the people, each to do their part, and keep the chain of events operating smoothly to make these things happen in an orderly way.
I have friends who call it GOD, Good Orderly Direction.
Why Say Grace?
My parents said grace before dinner, a simple way of taking note that they didn’t have much to do with making it possible for the meal to be on the table, except to take their turn earning the money and doing the shopping, and that it was such good fortune to have those networks of people in place doing their parts to bring it all together in a safe, peaceful place and time in history.
Saying, “Thank you, God, for the food we are about to eat,” seems to me a short, simple reflection on that big picture. And it is a positive way of seeing things. Rather than looking for the flaws in the fabric.
I love it when a Jewish friend gives a blessing to each item on the table, the bread, the food on the platter, the water and wine in our glasses, which is an even broader reflection upon the gratitude that “all is well in the world” that made the meal possible for us one more time.
My Big Dose of Gratitude
Back in my thirties I was a very big fault-finder with people and “the system.”
I happened to stay a few days with a single friend who had a big apartment, and a big heart. He already had two friends staying with him temporarily.
One was a young woman who had just returned from the Dixiecrat South where she’d been jailed for being a white woman working with black children.
She was awakened in the wee morning hours by roughneck “deputies” and jailed for being a white woman in a black area of town and breaking the segregation laws still in force during that time.
This was the 1960s.
Her story shocked me.
One evening I point blank asked her how she managed to deal with jail in the dark South. I wanted to hear what went on in her head.
“I counted my blessings,” she said.
“What!” I said. “How could that help?”
She said, “Well, I made a list each morning of ten things I was grateful for. And all during the day I’d read that list. I read it again and again all day long.”
I could not imagine such a thing. Not a beautiful, innocent looking woman locked up in a redneck racist southern jail
When I asked, “What could you possibly have been grateful for in that lockup?”
“It wasn’t easy,” she said. “I had to start with the obvious. I was still alive. They could have killed me. They killed a lot of others. You know their names — Juliette Morgan, Viola Liuzzo, Reverend James Reeb, Jonathan Daniels.
“I was grateful they hadn’t raped me. Their foul talk and sexually rough treatment sure indicated they would.
“I was grateful I was white and didn’t have to live in such awful conditions the blacks endured in their segregated communities.
“I had my education.
“I made a list every morning. It had to list ten things.
“Sometimes it took the better part of the morning to come up with all ten. I’d get down to being grateful for just being able to breath. And to have a healthy heart.
“I’m sure it helped me keep my sanity.
I was tremendously moved by her story. And often since then, when things go wrong and my hope is rattled, I remember to make a gratitude list.
It helps me, too.
I have a friend with whom I meet once a week. She’s one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. She has helped me turn many of my fault finding opinions into more positive territory.
She never corrects me, nor indicates that I’ve become critical of someone or something.
She simply stays positive in her own outlook, finding something good about what I’ve criticized. She’s always seeing the cup as half full. Never half empty.
There is a Sanskrit saying that I was also introduced to at The School of Practical Philosophy.
The fruit of negative thinking is endless suffering and ignorance.
I now see that it is true that every time I’m seeing something wrong with someone or their point of view, I am cutting myself off from knowing anything more about them.
Even if I do not probe for their thinking, if I can drop my “I’m right; you’re wrong” views for a bit I am able to see many more redeeming sides of the person.
And of course, if I stay with the dark thinking, I foster dark views of everything else about the person who is “wrong.”
Grattude is merely an attitude, I know.
But seems a powerful, healthy, rewarding one for me to cultivate. Opening myself on my hikes to what is right there, directly in front of me and dropping all ideas is a great help in this direction.