Thursday, November 24, 2011
It is Thanksgiving again. Everybody is talking about gratitude. It's on the front page of the local paper - heartwarming stories about people who have suffered to overcome terrible obstacles - cancer, hunger, heart surgery - and are now expressing their gratitude for having made it through, for the support and love they received, for the new chance at life they've been given, for waking up every morning and seeing the sunshine. A bank is thanking their loyal customers with a full page ad (good idea these days, banks!). In the obituaries, family members left behind are posting a note of gratitude and remembrance for a loved one long gone: thank you for the memories and the good times we shared. Another newspaper article extolls the health benefits of a grateful attitude: being thankful lowers your blood pressure, elevates your mood, decreases anxiety and even makes for a better night's sleep.So you better count your blessings or you'll only have yourself to blame if you get sick! We thank each other on Facebook in our status updates (like, like!) and when we sit down at the dinner table before digging into the turkey. We are bathing in an ocean of gratitude, it seems. So I can't help but ask myself: what does gratitude mean to me? I am not a religious person, but the first thing that comes to mind is: to me, gratitude is prayer. It is a practice. It is a way of life. I am grateful to be able to feel gratitude. But what if you are in so much pain that gratitude seems impossible? What if you are so numb that you are physically incapable of feeling anything at all? Yes, intellectually you know the things that you should be thankful for, and maybe there is even a part of you that knows that somewhere deep inside you actually are thankful for these things. But you can't go there. The pain is too raw, too all encompassing. I think of my dear friends who lost their daughter this year. Being a mother myself, it scares me to even begin to imagine what they are feeling. Can they feel any gratitude at all right now? And what about all the well-meaning people that point out what they should be feeling grateful for, in an attempt to ease the pain, to find the light at the end of the tunnel, to make it better somehow? Do you then end up not only not feeling grateful, but feeling guilty for not feeling grateful? If gratitude is prayer, so are tears. And so is laughter.We honor the ones we love and lost by crying, wailing, laughing, and continuing to love, love, love our hearts out. Maybe that is gratitude, too.