When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude. – Elie Wiesel
Type the word “gratitude” into a Google search field and you’ll get no fewer than 214 million results.
Enter “gratitude” into the books search on Amazon and about 80,000 tomes appear, from the late “Awakenings” neurologist Oliver Sack’s “Gratitude,” a collection of essays written at the end of his life, to an anthology by New Age icon Louise L. Hay called “Gratitude: A Way of Life,” to the colorful “Grateful Ninja: A Children’s Book About Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude.”
The online retailer offers daily gratitude meditation books, weekly gratitude journals, gratitude games and even “Everything SUCKS: A Gratitude Journal for People Who Have Been Through Some Sh*t.”
Elie Wiesel more than qualifies. Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and the author of “Night,” a powerful book about his experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps, Wiesel refused to embrace victimhood. Instead, he dedicated his life to speaking, teaching and activism aimed at freeing the oppressed people of the world. He wrote more than 40 books, many about the Holocaust, before his death in 2016.
It is almost impossible to grasp how someone like Wiesel could feel grateful. Thinking about his life, we can feel guilty that we have been complaining about the 10 months we have spent living diminished existences because of COVID-19. What do we have to complain about, really? we think.
And yet all is relative, and we each deserve – no, need – to acknowledge our own suffering.
This year, we have all been through some sh*t, as the book title says.
Still, we all have people and things for which to be grateful, no matter what our losses.
A woman we know began writing a daily text to a string of friends each day at the beginning of the coronavirus, expressing her gratitude for at least three things.
Some days the list is matter-of-fact: “Grateful it’s Friday. Grateful for dear friends. Grateful to work from home today.” Other days it’s whimsical: “Grateful for toilet paper. Grateful for Crayons. Grateful for fuzzy pajamas.” Sometimes it’s inscrutable, as in, “Grateful for stepladders.” (What has she been doing on a stepladder?)
Yet it is the ordinary things on her lists that are most touching and humbling: “Grateful for trash pickup. Grateful for assembly instructions. Grateful for clean laundry.” Aren’t we all, or shouldn’t we be?
Hers is truly a spiritual practice without any religious baggage, sans petition; its only requirement is that she pay attention to her life and what is right about it, every day.
For 10 months, our friend has sent off her gratitude list every morning, yet it has never grown tiresome to read. Instead, it is hope-filled and therefore hopeful.
“Just as despair can come to one only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings,” Wiesel said.
Today, which is Christmas – a religious holiday for many, a secular one for others and just an ordinary day for some – is as good a day as any to practice gratitude, no matter what challenges this year has brought, and as good a day to share the hope it engenders.
Grateful that people in Durango still stop for pedestrians in crosswalks.
Grateful for the drivers who wave when they pass by on a country road.
Grateful for snow, for the whistle of the Polar Express, for holiday cookies shared by a co-worker.
OK, now it’s your turn.