To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven. ~Johannes A. Gaertner
Gratitude, that simple acknowledgement of thanks for something -- anything really -- a friend, a flower, a good meal. How sorely are we lacking in modern times of this simple gift on a daily basis?
In my opinion, Thanksgiving is one of the most abused festivals in our holiday calendar, for we live in a society that has largely forgotten how good it can be to feel grateful.
100 years ago, a harvest thanksgiving really meant something to the farmers and their families who had worked all year in the fields. A poor crop a century ago did not mean higher prices for avocados and oranges at Walmart. It meant real deprivation, with the potential for starvation staved off only by the charity of others or the local soup kitchen, if there even was one. A couple of bad harvests meant the loss of a lifetime's work and families driven from their land.
A century ago the opportunity to give thanks around a table laden with autumn's harvest treasures was a deeply meaningful celebration, a chance to breathe a sigh of relief. Life would go on until next Spring's new beginning.
Today, the vast majority of the population lives in cities and urban areas. The world has changed. Our western civilization has developed the mechanisms to ensure that no one needs to starve to death. Fresh vegetables ands fruits are available in supermarkets year round now. But there was a time when they were something for which you were grateful.
My husband's favorite Christmas gift growing up on a farm in rural Louisiana was an orange - can you imagine that? In today's world of fast food and frozen food aisles, an orange was what he most looked forward to.
We have become a society where more and more people drift through their lives oblivious to the gifts laid before them. They have never known want or deprivation. They don't know how to feel grateful for things that have just always "been there" for them.
When we come down with an illness, we expect medical science to fix it. When we lose a job, possibly even through our own negligence, we expect a good severance package or, failing that, we look to the government to pick up the tab and help us get back on our feet. When something bad happens we cannot understand why the police can't rectify the situation and protect us from, ... well, everything.
Let us rejoice in being alive. Let us rejoice in being with family and friends now and then. Let us rejoice in being part of humanity. Let us dare to say, "Hi" to a stranger and even risk a smile. Okay, they might not smile back, being taken by surprise and all, but perhaps they will smile at the next person. Expressing your gratitude gives a gift to someone else.
Long ago the Jewish philosopher Maimonedes described a hierarchy of giving. At the pinnacle of that pyramid was the anonymous gift. It was the most religious and blessed thing we could do, he said, to give without any expectation. It was the ultimate act of gratitude, being able to say, "What God has given me, I will give away."
This Thanksgiving, let us remember to pause and appreciate the good things that have come our way. Let us also pause to appreciate the tests that have challenged us and helped us grow into the people we have become. Let the song of gratitude swell in our hearts. Let us not withdraw into a sense of "entitlement." Instead, let us embrace life and spread that joy, and take the time to be grateful.