Giving thanks is a constant thing - or should be. It's not only for great blessings or for Thanksgiving Day. I read somewhere that we should be grateful when we get out of bed and walk to the bathroom. Many handicapped folks are unable to move let alone walk. We should be grateful we can manage the bathroom by ourselves. Many can't take care of their personal hygiene. We should be grateful for our shower, for clean water, for hot water. Millions have no homes - nor showers or any unpolluted water. We should be grateful, but are we?
Even more basically, we should be grateful - to God and to Life - that we can think and remember. Many with dementia are confused and bewildered. If we would only reflect, we would force ourselves to be thankful.
Dr. Barton Goldsmith has some wonderful insights on all this. Instead of complaining about the aches and pains of aging, he tells us we should be grateful for growing older. Not everyone has the gift of years. Many have died young without any chance to grow old.
Goldsmith tells us we should be thankful that we can read a newspaper like this one. Millions around the world are blind or illiterate. We should be grateful when we shop for food. Many cannot afford it. As we wait in line at the supermarket, instead of being impatient, we could remember those waiting for a meal at a soup kitchen. Give thanks that you can pay for the things you want. Many can't pay for basic needs and are forced to choose between buying food, or medicine, or heat for their homes.
When you're stuck in traffic, instead of complaining, be thankful you have a car to drive and the money to buy gasoline. When your children are screaming at each other, be grateful you have children to love and who, despite their tantrums, really love you. Remember too that they will eventually grow up - and give thanks.
Leo Babauta, blogger, journalist, author and creator of Zen Habits, writes about holding two-minute gratitude sessions. On some mornings he sits or kneels, closes his eyes and thinks about what and for whom he's grateful. He says he is happier on days when he does that.
He's happier and if we held gratitude sessions, we'd be happier too - because first, it would remind us of the positive people and events in our lives. And second, it would help us see the negative things as challenges to be overcome, which would make us stronger, better human beings.
Such two-minute reflections would move us not only to be grateful to God and to Life, but also to show our gratitude to others. Gratitude sessions could prompt us to thank others for their many gifts to us. And as we thank them, the simple act of "thanks" by telephone, email or a visit could brighten their day - and ours.
And those "thank yous" are not just for neighbors and friends. They should be especially for spouses, partners and family for the many everyday kindnesses they routinely do for us.
These gratitude sessions should gently lead us to prayer - to the prayer of thanksgiving, the most basic prayer of all. The Christian mystic Meister Eckhart taught us, "If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough."
Moreover, for agnostics the "prayer" does not have to be theistic or religious. Here's a gratitude "prayer" for non-believers.
I'm grateful for life and all the opportunities it offers. I'm grateful I don't have everything I want. If I did, what would there be to look forward to? I'm grateful for my ignorance and the chance to learn and grow. I'm grateful for life's difficulties and the challenge they offer me to become a better human being. I'm grateful for my shortcomings and those of others and forgive myself and them for being human. I'm grateful for all the mistakes I've made and the invaluable lessons they've taught me. I am grateful for just being alive. Amen.
Retired from the administration at State University of New York at Fredonia, Daniel O'Rourke lives in Cassadaga. His column appears on the second and fourth Thursday each month. A grandfather, Dan is a married Catholic priest. His new book, "The Living Spirit" is a collection of previous columns. To read about that book or send comments on this column visit his website www.danielcorourke.com/