UUCSJ’s Director, Rev. Kathleen McTigue, reflects on gratitude and hardship.

In the midst of the devastating hurricane season this fall, the Boston area (where I live) was warned to brace for a possible hit from Hurricane Nate, before it spun off further east and out into the Atlantic. Folks in our area breathed a sigh of relief, but our UUCSJ relationships in Nicaragua made us acutely aware that not everyone got off unscathed. There were nearly 30 deaths from flooding in Central America, with many hundreds left homeless and thousands left in the dark without power. A few days after Nate blew through, I got an email from one of our partners in Nicaragua, letting me know that they were mostly okay. Gloria wrote, “We still have a lot of water — thank God we didn’t lose any people, but we’ve lost the harvest, all the stored grain and beans and a lot of houses are gone. It’s hard, and it’s sad.”

It’s hard and it’s sad, it’s painful, unfair, and sometimes downright terrifying in so many places in our own nation and around the world that we can feel overwhelmed. We get a huge dose of the world’s brokenness in each day’s news, and we can’t fix it; sometimes it seems that we can’t fix even a tiny little corner of it. But if we stay alert and alive to the world as it is, and to our own capacity for useful action, we’ll find the places where people are hauling on the ropes or rebuilding the bridges and need us to add our small efforts into the big changes we make together.

Staying alert and awake through the barrage of bad news can be a challenge, but for me the key is gratitude for the things that bless each of my days. They are things that are mine only through the pure accidents of birth. I have them because of where I came into the world, and into what skin and circumstances: water that runs from taps on command, hot and cold; lights at the touch of a switch, heat when the nights get cold, food when I’m hungry, access to a doctor when my children are sick. Peaceful nights unbroken by the threat of bombs or the sound of gunfire.  

Though we can quickly go unconscious again, the momentary awareness brought by gratitude is a precious thing. It gives us a taste of what it would be like if we could stay awake more consistently — how it would feel to be so grateful for the little miracles of the day that we tipped always toward contentment, and away from kvetching, from sweating the small stuff. And then too, maybe we could focus more intentionally not only on the blessings we’ve got, but the ways we become blessings for someone else. Our lives are so short, after all, and as far as we know, this dance is the only one we get: the band doesn’t play on forever. So how are we going to dance it? Let’s do it with our eyes wide open and our hands out, as far as we can reach.

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