The rain is pattering on my window and I am thankful. The dogs are snoring nearby and I am thankful. The blanket on my lap is warm and cozy and I am thankful. Being full of thanks does not require circumstances to be perfect. Neither does it require material things. In fact, stuff sometimes gets in the way of thankfulness. Relationships can hinder it as well, if they are filled with bitterness or heartache.
I think we make thankfulness complicated sometimes. It seems so big, and at this time of year, we are supposed to say certain things whether we feel them or not. You may not be thankful for your family because it is broken. The traditions you carry out might be old and stale. Yet, you try to put all that aside for the obligatory day of thanks and season of giving. But there is a reason this time of year comes with more depression than any other. Not everyone has good times to celebrate and some of us have expectations that get dashed. Our traditions aren’t turning out the way we want them to, and we have no control over it.
Our children are far away, in distance or in relationship. Our parents are fading and the way it has always been done has vanished. Nothing feels solid. Nothing feels right, whatever that is. Some are without. Others have lost loved ones. Some wear sickness as a cloak. Grief and loss are our escorts, tears our companions. So, how do we be genuinely thankful, not just for one day or one season, but all the time? How do we put our troubles aside and express gratefulness even when things aren’t as we want them to be?
Allow me to share. I have taken some lessons in thankfulness the past few years and I am happy to pass along what I have learned. In my travels, I have found lots of places in the world where poverty is the bread eaten daily. I have seen people who live in a dump or a cardboard shack. I have walked with those who have no shoes. Sat with those who have no chairs. Taught those who have no books. Talked with those who have no voice. Bondage to poverty comes in many forms.
Yet, I can tell you I have also witnessed thankfulness that knows no bounds. Thankfulness that humbled me. You see, thankfulness is a weapon when you live in poverty. It is a piece of armor you carry with you everywhere you go. An orphan with no legs, smiles because he is so thankful for his arms, which he uses to “walk”. A woman with 4 generations in a shack without all the walls and holes in the roof, is so thankful for her family she cannot think of anything to pray for. A woman who lives at the dump with her partially clothed children is thankful for the shoes she found for them among the mountains of garbage. All of them smile with grateful hearts. They offer to pray for me, since they feel they have all they need.
My melancholy that I don’t have all of my children here for a Thanksgiving feast is only because I am not looking through the eyes of thankfulness. My self-pity seems laughable. My thankfulness so shallow. Instead, I should be grateful that when I opened my hands to let them go, the wind carried them to bear fruit in other places. I should be thrilled my kids are alive and healthy. I have so much to learn about what real thankfulness feels like.
My international professors of thankfulness showed me that it is more important to focus on what is, instead of what is not. Here we look at all the could be, or should be, and we miss out on what is. Our consumer culture is always showing us what we need, but my teachers tell me I have all I need already. They are master’s level in being grateful for small things. They live today as if it is the only day. I am a student of their perspective and I am hopeful one day I will pass the class by rewriting my thoughts of thankfulness.
The rain is pattering on my window and I am thankful I am not drenched by the storm. The dogs are snoring nearby and I am thankful I do not have to eat them to survive. The blanket on my lap is warm and cozy and I am thankful I am not living outside in the cold without one. I am thankful for what is, and I wish you a thankful life, not just today but every day.