Thursday, October 21, 2004

Isn't today Thanksgiving Day?

Several years ago, I was addicted to the Oprah Winfrey Show. I never made plans for anytime near 4 PM because I didn't want to miss my daily dose. I spoke about her show so much that at least one friend was concerned about my spiritual health. Was I seeking Oprah's advise more than anyone else's? Had I lost perspective on who I was and who Oprah was? I assured her I was fine. I was. I still am. And one of the reasons I am so fine is because of a book that Oprah ranted and raved about for weeks on end back in 1996: Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. It's one of those books where you read a chapter a day and reflect on the questions and challenges it poses. Early in the year, the readers are challenged to begin a Gratitude Journal. The premise is simple; the outcome is profound. At the end of each day, I was to take a few minutes to list five things I was grateful for that day. Start off with the small stuff: my children's laughter. Safety on our jaunts around town. Salad. Clean water to drink. Stuff like that. Health. A good job. A home we loved. Family and friends that care about us. The bounty in the supermarket. The list grew. My eyes were opened in a new way; I looked for and noted the details that made each day special. My heart was opened in a new way; I longed to encourage others to pay attention to the small stuff. That's when I became convinced that everyday ought to be Thanksgiving Day. Everyday, even the dreadful day when my father passed away back in March of 2001, was cause for celebration: he was no longer in pain. He no longer needed glasses or an oxygen tank or the help of a wheelchair. I still had my mother and my brothers. My children were still in love with me. So was my husband. One woman I am still getting to know sent me an email recently and said that she is considering gratitude as a discipline, as something she practices deliberately. Yes, yes, yes - do it. Practice it deliberately, but you will be surprised by how quickly it no longer feels like a discipline to be kept, but a joyous habit to maintain. At least that's what happened to me. While keeping the gratitude journal started out as something that took discipline to do on a daily basis, it quickly became one of the highlights of my day. Although I no longer keep a separate notebook for my daily list, I have never stopped the practice of praise as I wander through my days. When I pull into the garage after hauling the children from place to place or hauling home the loot from Harris Teeter (that's the local supermarket for all the non-Southerners out there), or return from another heart-pumping tennis lesson, I whisper a word of thanks for traveling mercies. When I am sorting the clothes into the washing machine and scrubbing microwaved oatmeal off of breakfast bowls or drinking loose leaf tea in a mug chosen for me by a friend in Vermont, I give thanks for fresh water and thoughtful friends and healthy kids who eat well and have the health, strength, and motivation to make messes in their clothes. When I began the habit of praying with my children, I didn't refer to it as prayer but told them it was time to say, "Thank you, Jesus." With all that I have been given, with all that I have seen and experienced in my life, with all that is around me that is beautiful, exhilarating, and enriching, I cannot help but respond with an attitude of gratitude. When I see the devastation of war, poverty, abuse, loneliness, illness and death, I force myself to give thanks even then. And when thanks just doesn't come, I pull out the old gratitude journals and remind myself of blessings I have known in times gone by. Late last spring I had the chance to give a talk for mothers of children with special needs. I spoke to them about the tremendous benefit of keeping track of the blessings in the midst of the trials. I must admit that I worried that this idea of keeping a gratitude journal would seem trite in the face of what these moms faced. They listened politely and some even seemed moved. I handed each of them a stenographer's notebook and challenged them to try it out. Two days ago, I heard that one of the mothers took my challenge to heart and began to keep a gratitude journal. She explained it to her family and left it on the kitchen table so that everyone had access to it. Apparently, it's been a big hit. Everyone has contributed including the youngest member of the famiily whose scribblings must be translated and transcribed. When friends visit and inquire about the tattered steno pad, they take the opportunity to spread the good cheer: gratitude is contagious. In this season when colds become common and the flu is spread like so much holiday gloom, I want to start an epidemic of epic proportions, a pandemic of sorts. Will you join me? When you greet someone, friend, foe or stranger, ask them what they are thankful for. End letters and email with a short list of what you are grateful for. Teach your children, your family, your loved ones, and unloved ones that giving thanks is a small thing with monumental consequences. What am I grateful for today? This blog. Fried eggs on English muffins. Those who are diligently seeking peace in this war-torn world despite being told that to do so is a waste of time. The ability to vote. Friends far and near. My Pilot/Namiki fountain pen. Oprah. Books. My journal. Rain. The list goes on... Gratefully yours, Gail

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