“We cannot be grateful for all that a given moment brings us; yet, in any given moment, we can be grateful for something. The gift within the gift of any given moment is opportunity.” ~ Brother David Steindl-Rast
As the years accumulate behind me, I have come to a new understanding of what it means to be grateful. First, I learned what gratitude is not. It is not an emotion that wells up at certain times of the year. Nor is it found in comparing myself to others. Stacking my good fortune against another’s misfortune only leads to a false sense of blessing or worse guilt over my own undeserved abundance. Gratitude is not found outside in things acquired or created but within.
What I came to understand is that gratitude is a state of being. It is an intentional daily practice in which one looks at what is and finds grace in the present moment. Admittedly, it takes a concerted effort and time to retreat from a busy life and obligations. Yet when I pull away and indulge in this deep sort of looking, I find I am more apt to notice the good in my life and in the world around me.
When I was teaching, I tried to end each day with what I called “Good Finders.” My students would sit on our gathering rug with their coats and backpacks on ready to head home or off to daycare. Yet, before we went our separate ways I wanted them to leave with a positive attitude about their day. After some prompting and modeling, my students learned to raise their hand for an opportunity to describe what a classmate “did well” that day. Often, it was a special friend they lauded, but every once in a while someone who had a less than stellar day was noticed, too. It was the slow creep of a smile on his or her face that made me realize, this was one of the most important lessons I could teach my students.
Yet, there are days when I struggle to find gratitude. Mishaps, illness, or just a dreary day can sometimes get the best of me. It is then that I find children can be a balm for instilling gratitude. Young children remind me to reclaim the wonder I once knew. One of my granddaughters is a great finder of things. A musty old bottle dug up in the yard or an unexpected flower found on a cold January day can bring equal delight. Children walk through their day attentive and grateful for the smallest of things that come their way. They remind me to be present and look for the wonder around me. When I follow their lead, I find gratitude again.
The other day my husband stepped out of his office for a breath of fresh air. It was one of those halcyon days when the sun illuminated the fall colors against the vibrant blue of the sky. He just stood in front of his building looking up in awe. Then, a lady leaving the building came and stood beside him. She smiled and said “Isn’t it just the most beautiful day?” I have such a clear picture of them. Two strangers standing together, faces upturned, drinking in a lovely autumn day. Each finding gratitude for what is. It truly is just that simple.
Happy Thanksgiving! ~c.h.