The Practice of Thanks Giving
Is the turkey who crosses the road without incident grateful? What about the one that didn't end up on someone’s dinner table on Thanksgiving? Are theys rejoicing today? We will never know but we must admit that it takes skill (and practice) to avoid oncoming traffic and the truck that delivers turkeys to the slaughterhouse. Living in a state of gratitude also requires practice4 and skill.
Being good at something doesn't just happen; not normally anyway. Great skill comes with practice. Doctors aren’t automatically great doctors just because they earn their degree and nurses aren’t always great nurses when they graduate from nursing school. An engineer can't build a safe bridge just because they earned a degree. Like any professional, we have not become experts at being grateful simply because we celebrate Thanksgiving or any other day designated as a day to give thanks. It takes practice to be truly grateful.
After writing about the truth of a holiday we call Thanksgiving recently, a fellow writer left a comment saying that they get so caught up in day to day living that they sometimes forget to be grateful. While thinking about my response to the comment, I realized that gratitude has become a part of my day to day life. It isn’t separate from my life, I don't know exactly when or how it happened but I'm sure it was born out of a series of life's challenges. It happens that way with us humans, doesn't it? We assume too much and take too much for granted, don't we?
Looking back, I think that those challenges in my life, although hard, were some of my most important lessons. As one after the other resolved, I found myself feeling grateful and yes, it was a new experience. It felt good and in those moments of gratitude, I began to think of others who were facing adversity. I wondered how I could help them find the same peace that comes from being truly grateful. Gratitude was a gift to me and to enjoy its true richness, I knew I must share it.
So, are you ready to hear how I responded to the comment? Of course you are and I am more than happy to share with you how saying thanks has become second nature to me. In fact, it is an obligation.
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The first in a series called "A Childhood Remembered". I grew up a child of the 60's with parents who cared enough to put a strong foundation under my feet. They created memories of simple but good times that will remain with me forever.
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Life, the great teacher and challenger
I’ve had a pretty good life, relatively speaking. I’m 58 years old and I’ve never broken a bone. I’ve had one serious illness which was cured. I rarely get sick and I don’t have any pain. The joints are sometimes a little stiff in the morning and I can’t party all night anymore but hey, I don’t want to so that’s okay. My driving record is amazing for someone who has been on the road a lot for over forty years. I’ve had one major accident and didn’t’ even get a scratch when the car was flipped upside down and totaled. Three speeding tickets within three months cured me of being in a hurry. One house fire stole all my personal possessions but my animals and I were not injured. Two divorces left me with two ex-husbands who turned out to be great friends. I could go on but I think you’re starting to see a pattern.
Nothing in my life that seemed hard at the time kept me down. Even when I thought I couldn’t, I survived and ended up stronger and better for having had the experience. It made gratitude easy. There were a few tragedies that struck people close to me. Those hurt and changed life as I knew it but the strength I had gained carried me through the challenges and change. On the other side, I found gratitude. Somewhere along the line, I realized that I had a lot to be grateful for and that I needed to remind myself of it once in a while. There was a time that I started a gratitude journal but soon discovered that I was more spontaneous than disciplined. The journals were soon lost in the other stacks of books I hadn't taken time to read.
From my friend bravewarrior
- Perspectives: Gratitude - Where Does It Lie in the Spectrum of Life?
In today's dog eat dog world, we too often lose sight of that which we are grateful. We neglect to show gratitude towards our loved ones and mankind as a whole. Step back, take a deep breath and look at your life from the perspective of gratitude. Ma
Now it’s no secret that I love my morning coffee. It’s probably the most repeated statement throughout all my writing. Why? Because it is my thinking time. It’s where I learned to practice giving thanks. Those few moments in the morning, sitting with that first cup of hot, steamy java, is my time to think about the day ahead and, to refelct on the one gone by. It’s a short window of time but it’s certainly a good way to start a day. Giving thanks doesn’t require a ceremony. It can be as simple as – being aware. Sitting with my coffee, I see the sun peek over the horizon and hear the birds begin their morning greetings to one another and I cannot help but whisper a “thank you” for the gift of another day. I don’t know what the day might bring but I am happy to be given one more chance to get things right, to try one more time to be a better person, and yes, to even have one more day that makes me a little older, but hopefully a lot wiser.
As my day progresses, I may find myself out on the road taking care of business. Some days I travel in silence and sometimes, I crank the stereo in the car and sing at the top of my lungs. Sure, I probably look like a complete fool but who cares. As I drive along, I run through another mental list of things I am grateful for. The focus of that gratitude varies. Sometimes it will be gratitude that the store clerk was friendly or that the product I was looking for was right there on the shelf. Occasionally I find myself just grateful to have the time to run the errands or for a vehicle that didn’t leave me stranded. That wasn’t always the case. I’ve driven some real junk in my lifetime.
Looking Past Our Selves and Seeing Others
I’ve learned that I don’t have to look far to see someone who is having it a lot harder than me. There’s a guy in my neighborhood who travels all over town by wheel chair. I see him in the oddest places and I know how he got there. He pushed that little lever on that wheelchair all day long, struggling to get that chair over curbs, dodging traffic and pedestrians alike, but determined not to let that wheel chair confine him to the status of an invalid. Gratitude? How can I not feel it? I have two healthy legs and a vehicle. Of course I’m grateful.
There is another guy who is sleeping behind the dumpster in my apartment complex. I watch him leave every morning around 9 o'clock. But I feel a little better knowing he has eaten the sandwich I left last night and that he at least had a heavy coat to put on. I picked one up at Goodwill for $5.00 and left it behind the dumpster. He's wearing it and I feel better.
Before you accuse me of rambling, let’s get on to the rest of the story. No matter what the day brings, the practice of giving thanks is the closing act of my day. As I lay my head on the pillow, I run through the last of my mental lists for the day. I have to think about something while I’m waiting for sleep to come so why not think about the gifts of the day. With practice, I began to see the gift, even when it is hidden in difficulty.
Challenges are really just opportunities.
Yesterday, I couldn’t write and I was frustrated and angry. My computer was infected with a virus and I spent the entire day disinfecting files. I was livid that someone would write malicious code just for the hell of it and cause me to lose an entire day of productive work. And then, as my eyes closed on the day, I remembered that even in the struggle, I was fortunate. I still had electricity to run my computer, a roof over my head, food in the pantry, and clean water to drink. And I remembered the victims of Hurricane Isaac and Superstorm Sandy. I thought of those in Gaza and Israel ducking bombs and burying their dead. I thought of the children in Appalachia going to bed hungry and cold, the woman facing an uncertain future with breast cancer, and, the homeless veteran sleeping in a city park. These are the gifts, the thoughts that now come without prompting, to remind me of all that I have in my life. I have trained my brain to be grateful and to think in terms of sharing the gift.
Paying It Forward
There are two parts to the word thanks-giving. They are not separate from each other. Thanksgiving, the holiday, is a day for us to share with loved ones. To live in a constant state of thanks-giving requires more of us. It requires us to practice and become skilled in the art of gratitude and, to share it. It's about feeling thankful and paying it forward. So, as I put the final touches on this piece, let me take a moment and say –
Today, I give thanks for you. I am grateful that you would take the time from your busy life to read my work. I appreciate the gift of your life and for all you contribute to making the world a better place. For all your efforts to provide for your family or to help a stranger, I am grateful. Although giving thanks has become second nature to me, I will continue the practice of giving thanks because I never want to take you or this life I have been given for granted.
Blessings to you and yours!
© 2012 Linda Crist