Gratitude Bestows Reverence

November 24, 2016

Succulents, Center for Urban Horticulture gardens

Succulents, Center for Urban Horticulture gardens

“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”
— John Milton

I am grateful for family and friends, art and nature, books and writers, and for each day.  Happy Thanksgiving!

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November display at the Greenwood Library

November display at the Greenwood Library

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“Give only if you have something you must give; give only if you are someone for whom giving is its own reward.”
— Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

Gratitude garland

Gratitude garland

“When the gift I give to the other is integrated to my own nature, when it comes from a place of organic reality within me, it will renew itself — and me — even as I give it away.”
— Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

I do believe that some of the best gifts are gifts of yourself, your time, your attention, your unique talents and skills.  But I like the added refinement that Palmer offers, namely, to be attuned to whether your giving depletes you or renews you.  Sometimes when you given all you’ve got, to the point of exhaustion, that still feels good because you have the satisfaction of a job well done with no regrets for holding back.  But if you are feeling burned out, then I think it is time to question whether you should keep giving what is depleting you, sometimes to the point of illness.  Maybe there is a healthier way to give or help.

One thing we all can give to each other is our attention.  This is something I need to and want to work on.  I would like to become a better listener.  For me, that means starting from a point of stillness.  Really stopping.  And then listening with absorption, with eye contact, face to face, heart to heart.  Attuned to the feelings behind what is being said, rather than the factual content.  Listening more and talking less.  What a gift that would be!

 

Turkey Day

November 27, 2014

Today I quote the words of Benjamin Franklin, who defended the respectability of the turkey in a letter to his daughter Sarah in 1784:

“For my own part, I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country; he is a bird of bad moral character; he does not get his living honestly; you may have seen him perched on some dead tree, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labor of the fishing-hawk; and, when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish, and is bearing it to his nest for the support of his mate and young ones, the bald eagle pursues him, and takes it from him. With all this injustice he is never in good case; but, like those among men who live by sharping and robbing, he is generally poor, and often very lousy. Besides, he is a rank coward; the little kingbird, not bigger than a sparrow, attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district. . .

I am, on this account, not displeased that the figure is not known as a bald eagle, but looks more like a turkey. For in truth, the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America. Eagles have been found in all countries, but the turkey was peculiar to ours . . .  He is, besides, (though a little vain and silly, it is true, but not the worse emblem for that,) a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards, who should presume to invade his farmyard with a red coat on.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Ink sketch of wild turkey

Ink sketch of wild turkey

Watercolor sketch of wild turkey

Watercolor sketch of wild turkey

Ink sketch of domesticated turkey

Ink sketch of domesticated turkey

Watercolor sketch of young turkey (a little vain and silly)

Watercolor sketch of young turkey (a little vain and silly)

 

Thanksgiving 2013

November 28, 2013

Watercolor sketch of Thanksgiving greetings

Be Thankful

Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire,
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?

Be thankful when you don’t know something
For it gives you the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for the difficult times.
During those times you grow.

Be thankful for your limitations
Because they give you opportunities for improvement.

Be thankful for each new challenge
Because it will build your strength and character.

Be thankful for your mistakes
They will teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you’re tired and weary
Because it means you’ve made a difference.

It is easy to be thankful for the good things.
A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are
also thankful for the setbacks.

Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive.
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles
and they can become your blessings.
— Author Unknown

Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Thank You Notes

November 23, 2012

Thank you note from my niece’s son when he was 8 years old (Jan 2011)

Thank-You Notes
by Billy Collins, from Horoscopes for the Dead: Poems

Under the vigilant eye of my mother
I had to demonstrate my best penmanship
by thanking Uncle Gerry for the toy soldiers —

little red members of the Coldstream Guards
and thanking Aunt Helen for the pistol and holster,

but now I am writing other notes
alone at a small cherry desk
with a breeze coming in an open window,

thanking everyone I happened to see
on my long walk to the post office today

and anyone who ever gave me directions
or placed a hand on my shoulder,
or cut my hair or fixed my car.

And while I am at it,
thanks to everyone who happened to die
on the same day that I was born.

Thank you for stepping aside to make room for me,
for giving up your seat,
getting out of the way, to be blunt.

I waited until almost midnight
on that day in March before I appeared,
all slimy and squinting, in order to leave time

for enough of the living
to drive off a bridge or collapse in a hallway
so that I could enter without causing a stir.

So I am writing now to thank everyone
who drifted off that day
like smoke from a row of blown-pit candles —
for giving up you only flame.

One day, I will follow your example
and step politely out of the path
of an oncoming infant, but not right now
with the subtropical sun warming this page
and the wind stirring the fronds of the palmettos,

and me about to begin another note
on my very best stationery
to the ones who are making room today

for the daily host of babies,
descending like bees with their wings and stingers,
ready to get busy with all their earthly joys and tasks.

Written thank you notes are a graceful way to express gratitude.  I hope that this does not become a lost art.  The whole practice of gift-giving seems fraught with expectations and potential conflicts.  Surely the best gifts are given freely.  And yet, a gift demands a response.

Is a simple, heartfelt verbal thank you enough?  Is a written thank you note the end of our cultural obligation to show gratitude? In fact, our duty as gift recipients is deeper.  Margaret Visser, who examines the culture of gratitude in The Gift of Thanks:  The Roots and Rituals of Gratitude, says that a gift has three parts:  to give, to receive, and to reciprocate:  “With thanking, expressing gratitude is not enough.  One should give something back; the intention to return a favour must be present or one’s words are merely empty.”

I like thinking about gratitude in this way.  I tend to view buying gifts as a burden and an unwilling duty.  It will be a worthy goal to have a change of heart about this, and to approach exchanging gifts in a more thoughtful and gracious way, celebrating the connections and obligations that tie me to my recipients.  Something to think about this holiday season.

Giving thanks on this Thanksgiving Day

I do believe in counting my blessings.  But I do think this one-sided focus on the positive is a bit disingenuous.  There is the danger of feeling self-satisfied that God or the Universe has chosen you for its gifts and bounty (compared to the poor, undeserving masses).  Or that you have escaped disaster and suffering through your own talents and hard work, rather than by chance or grace.

The exercise of counting one’s blessings is designed, perhaps, to evoke feelings of humility and compassion and gratitude.  But how about taking a moment to count one’s disasters and crises and reflect upon their role in life.  No one is immune from suffering.  And I believe it is when one is struggling with bad news, pain and disease, failures and limitations, that one’s humanity is revealed.  Disasters impose constraints, but working within constraints can be immensely freeing and push one to great creativity.

The following tale from China, “The Lost Horse,” illuminates another aspect of disasters and their dual nature (hidden blessings):

A man who lived on the northern frontier of China was skilled in interpreting events. One day for no reason, his horse ran away to the nomads across the border. Everyone tried to console him, but his father said, “What makes you so sure this isn’t a blessing?” Some months later his horse returned, bringing a splendid nomad stallion. Everyone congratulated him, but his father said, “What makes you so sure this isn’t a disaster?” Their household was richer by a fine horse, which the son loved to ride. One day he fell and broke his hip. Everyone tried to console him, but his father said, “What makes you so sure this isn’t a blessing?”

A year later the nomads came in force across the border, and every able-bodied man took his bow and went into battle. The Chinese frontiersmen lost nine of every ten men. Only because the son was lame did father and son survive to take care of each other. Truly, blessing turns to disaster, and disaster to blessing: the changes have no end, nor can the mystery be fathomed.

So this Thanksgiving, let’s embrace the whole of life — blessings and disasters — with heartfelt gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!