People in my town leave the scenes of accidents. Neighbors in the nearest city fight over shelter sites. Opioid epidemic grows state-wide. Mass shootings sweep the country. Climate despair goes global. Countries compete in the space race. When I expand outwardly from here to there, this to that, often I see only the mess we’ve made, hear the din, sense the ruin of everything. I tell myself a story of hopelessness. I feel thankless.
When I focus on what’s in front of me, I expand inwardly into thanks-giving, say, for these dry, bug-eaten leaves cupped in my hand. When I look into this moment, I am poet Mary Oliver, “a bride married to amazement.” Here I hold the miracle of this foliage which adorns this spacious yard next to my warm home with these strong stone steps that support this body. That’s a lot to be thankful for.
A question arises. How do we keep this gratitude-ground, with its balancing ballast in a world seemingly bent on capsizing itself? How do we sit in our hearts which store the secret to this gratefulness we have always needed, need now and will need forever? To remind us to give thanks when we feel not-thankful, daily we need something that steadies us in the midst of the swirl, something that holds our anchor. And what is that appreciation-anchor? Maybe thankfulness happens here and now, for breathing, for the possibility of inner body calm and peace as the mind and society storm and wage war.
Light and dark, gain and loss, grief and grace co-exist. Yet the fierceness of fear, crime, sickness, struggle, despair, pain and death can distract us from how many times in one hour strangers say to us, ”have a great day,” from the mom hugging her baby to interrupt a grocery store meltdown, from the miracle of that child, who always overspent his allowance and who became the adult who writes budgets for his company, from a granddaughter sing-songing a nursery rhyme.
If we absorb only the 25 dark minutes of a newscast, those minutes cramp us. Can we also listen to the last five minutes which intend to uncramp us, to open us to life’s light? Maybe that inspiration helps us thank the heroes in this broken and not broken world: a singular human being doing one small thing to add the teeniest bit of order to this not so teeny chaos; one person like my pal Peter, a climate change activist, and his tireless work in D.C. which grows beyond the one and affects the many; the seven-year-old who raises money for a buddy bench at school so he—or whoever needs it— won’t feel alone; or as poet Richard Blanco writes, “a bus driver who remembers our name.” Even in the midst of crisis, what if we spent 25 minutes looking, as Mr. Rogers said after the horrors of 9/11, for the helpers?
We are a storytelling people; we tell ourselves stories. What if we tweaked the hopelessness/thanklessness plot? What if the narrative also included the good along with the bad and the ugly?
As I write, the fall wind drops leaves as it whips through the magical majestic trees outside my widow. I look out. I want that wind to stir us, enough to awaken amazement, enough to widen, deepen and heighten our outlook, enough to expose a fuller picture, to sweep away our denial that gifts grace this moment, enough to blow into us a let’s-also-count-our-blessings breeze.