Monday, November 14, 2011

Big Gratitude

Gratitude has been on my mind a lot lately. Gratitude is always on my mind, but more than usual of late - mostly because I'm coming to the end of a three-part series I've been teaching at a local church on gratitude.

Gratitude to _____________.
Gratitude for_____________.
Gratitude in spite of ______________.

We can all fill in those blanks in a variety of ways. Together as a class, we've been exploring new ways to see and appreciate all that we have and all that we are because of the many blessings we have received and in spite of many of the challenges that we face. Gratitude is always an option. Always.

As I was preparing for our last session together, which will take place this coming Wednesday night, I was reminded of another part of gratitude, another kind of gratitude that I want to discuss with the class: big gratitude.

It is good and right to give thanks for our daily bread.
For the roof that remains over our heads every night and every day.
For friends. For family. For employment.

But there is a broader circle of gratitude, a wider web that I found myself entangled in last summer while sitting at one of my son's many tennis tournaments. The one I'm referring to was here in Charlotte at a beautiful golf, swimming, and racquet club called the Charlotte Country Club. It is truly a hidden gem, one that I am grateful to have discovered; it is a welcome side effect of our extensive tennis tour schedule.

So there I was, sitting outside of the courts in the parking lot in a folding chair I had brought from home. I had found a sliver of shade, graciously provided by a nearby tree and a strategically placed light post. I had my journal in my lap, a pen in my hand, a water bottle at my feet, and my son was playing a great match of tennis.

As I sat there on that early summer morning, I looked around and was struck by the beauty of the location, the sound of the birds singing, the tennis balls being struck by new string, and the scores being spoken aloud by the young players. I looked around, slowly registering the presence of fences around the courts, players' chairs, score cards, garbage baskets, and bleachers where spectators sat.

Gradually and thoroughly, I submerged myself in a deep sea of gratitude. I was grateful for the people who had sat at sewing and weaving machines making tennis nets, tennis shorts, socks, tee shirts, tennis dresses, and the fabric of the chair in which I sat. I was grateful for the electricians who mounted the light posts and connected them to electricity. I was grateful for the people who manufactured and installed the tennis net poles, the folks who made and installed the fences all around the facility, the people who poured curbs, the driveways, and constructed the clubhouse buildings. The makers of Gatorade, coolers, towels, tennis bags, sneakers, shock absorbers, grip tape - they all flashed through my thoughts that morning. I was grateful for the engineers and designers and factory workers who worked together to create the minivan that carries me, my son, and all his gear to so many tournaments all year long.

The tournament directors, the facility managers, the cleaning crews, the maintenance workers, the officials, the parents, the players, the people who paved the parking lots, the ones who painted the lines on the tennis courts, the hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who had worked so hard to make that moment possible for me - I was overwhelmed with gratitude. 

Big gratitude. 

As I watched my son run, reach, swing, serve, volley, lob, and do all the other things on the court that boggle my mind - and not my son alone; I am amazed every time I watch the young men and women who compete in these tournaments. Their skill confounds me - as I marveled at his very existence, this growing boy who for some inexplicable chose me as the antechamber through which he would make his entrance into the world, that morning, my heart swelled and my eyes filled with gratitude, soul-deep gratitude, big gratitude.

Grateful to God and to all the people who made that morning possible.

Grateful for life, health, strength, family, friends, access to money, to a car, the heart, mind and spirit that allowed me to have that profound experience of gratitude, and everything else under the sun. Absolutely everything.

Grateful in spite of my fear of losing it all, in spite of my feelings of unworthiness, in spite of the difficulties that come up, in spite of how nutty people think I am for thinking about my life and the world this way.

Big gratitude.

Francesca Johnson,  the heroine in the movie, "The Bridges of Madison County,"
said it perfectly: "There is so much beauty. Go well, my children."

The photos in this blog were taken in Macon, Georgia, this past June, and not in Charlotte a year ago when the incident I describe here took place. On the morning in question, I was too busy writing down all the things I was grateful for to pull out my camera and take pictures.

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