Lately I’ve been thinking about the different ways we enter into gratitude. Sometimes we come to it as a deliberate practice, as when we get ready for sleep by reviewing the day just ending, with an eye to all that it held for which we’re thankful. Other times we enter gratitude out of surprise: someone we love tells us how much we mean to them, or an unexpected gift tumbles into our lap, and gratitude fills us spontaneously.
There is also a kind of back-handed way to enter gratitude, when something bad happens and we count our blessings because it wasn’t worse. Recently, my mother-in-law took a bad fall when the car she was climbing into began to move before she had managed to get all the way in. She came down hard on the asphalt and was scraped and bruised, and after a couple of hours in an emergency clinic came out with stitches in her elbow and bandages in four other places. It was an unfortunate event, but we were all deeply grateful nevertheless: “It could have been so much worse”.
What I would like to achieve one day — what I aspire to, in a sense — is not to become expert in these and all the other ways to enter into gratitude, but rather to stay there, to dwell there, as my chosen way of being alive to the world. The Catholic writer David Steindl-Rast puts it this way: “What really counts is that we remember that everything is gratuitous, everything is gift. The degree to which we are awake to this truth is the measure of our gratefulness. And gratefulness is the measure of our aliveness, [since we are] dead to whatever we take for granted. To live life open for surprise, in spite of all the dying which living implies, makes us ever more alive.”
We are entering challenging times, with daunting new threats to justice, human dignity and the health of our planet under a Trump administration. But we will find our way forward, grounded in the twin imperatives of resistance and imagination. And at the core of all that we are called to will be gratitude: for companions and community, determination and courage, boldness, inspiration, steadfastness, and all the many ways that love will be made manifest among us.