by Matt Gordon
My birthday was this week. I say that mostly to make you feel bad for not wishing me a happy birthday. Seriously, who do you think you are? Maybe now I’ll get some belated well-wishes lavished upon me? But looking back on my birthday, I invite you to think of one of yours. In particular the one where you got that new guitar or train set or doll or car or note or special edible treat. Picture whatever it was for you that most recently or most poignantly made your heart skip a beat. Grasping that new thing and the idea behind it—that someone cared for you and knew you well enough to nail it—what was your response? Surely it was a “thank you.” It might have been said through words or tears or hugs, but you offered up some serving of thanksgiving. And you were no worse for it. Much is made about how good gratitude is for you, but here’s a surety: it most certainly isn’t bad for you. I’m sure much is made for how good gratitude is for the person who receives it, but here’s another safe-bet: it most certainly isn’t bad for them. The world is a hard place. There is pain and loss and suffering, so if I can find any action that absolutely is not bad for anyone, I want to take that thing and unleash it.
I bring up birthdays, again, for the fanfare it may drum up for me, of course. But also for the recognition of the fact that three-hundred-and-sixty-four days of the year are decidedly not my birthday. Yet they all contribute to that one special day. Take any of these days away from me, and it would be to take me away as well—for I am tied to existence and existence is a calendar of days. I amass days, and every three-and-a-half hundred of them or so, I get a cake. But the cake is less about the single day and the accumulation of them.
And yet I walk about mortal coil, seizing up gifts by the lungful without so much as a kind word, an upward glance or downward humility; I prance unknowingly into entitlement. Decidedly, a bad thing, indeed.
My modest assignment today was to discuss the who and how of gratitude. But first I must really grasp the what; it is the what which informs the who and how, just as a birthday gift has a name next to “From” on the tag; and the gift, a size and weight and quality to it.
So what am I given each day? My list might be a bit different than yours, but one thing we share is life. Life. Here on an inhabitable planet—the only one we know about. With ample air. With water and food, and gravity keeping us from the horrors of space—you’ve seen the movies: it is scary out there.
And it can be scary here too, admittedly. But so many of my fears have been fought off for me. As a baby it would have been a scary thing not to have food, but I did; I was fed. Someone fed me when I could do nothing for myself. Clothed me. Changed me. Cleaned me. Thank you, thank you, thank you. This fear, and many like it along the course of my existence, have been banned access to me. Repeatedly, I’ve been protected. By others.
Others. They are all around. Likely due to this being the only inhabitable planet and all. And some of these others choose to gravitate around my life—teaching me to speak or to read or how to prepare a meal or play an instrument or care for a plant or drive a stick-shift or lead a team or save for the future or share my faith without being a jerk or, better, how to love others as myself. Others have given me precious gifts along the way: thank you, thank you, thank you.
What has been given to me? Life. Its very organic essence: sight and taste and touch and smell and sound. The in-and-out daily breath and daily bread. And then there is the supernatural essence of it: the way sight and taste and touch and smell and sound can become symphonic. Why baked bread reminds one of so much more; why the same hand of the beloved when held can still feel like the first and only time—a cosmic fusion of beings. Our life and the lives of these others create something beyond just the living—they blend and unite and celebrate and mourn and grow, creating air for the secret places of us, for the soul. We live and in that living we get to love.
Knowing the immensity of the gift, it is time to dole out the gratitude. To whom do I offer thanks? To every noble life that encourages and enhances my own—that calls me from mere existence to deeper love. I thank God for creating it all, and then thank all known participators in the Divine. The parental figures, coaches, teachers, the person who is kind in the checkout aisle of the grocery store, my work colleagues. Those who have raised and changed me for the better—or who have attempted to. I need not be stingy with my praise, for there is no budget to be kept, no quota to meet. It is a plethora of abundance—a rushing waterfall that is silly to measure out in cups. No, better to let the onrush come, and be awed at its unending supply.
How, you say? Well that is as individual as a birthday gift, isn’t it? Journaling surely helps to recall those who have called you to life. Thank you cards are nice, for who doesn’t like a handwritten act of fondness? A hug will do; a word. The only tip, I think, is to be loud in praise. As the world has turned up its volume on criticism, it seems wise to rise above the din of damnation. Grace can be a ferocious, bold thing when we let it. Let it. Say the thing. Today. Tomorrow. The day after. Create the habit of honoring the others.
It is a birthday of a thing. All candles alit. Our gratitude lights up the world for those around us. Imagine that? A world full of light, where one is steadily reminded of the good that has been done, and encouraged to put hand to the good left to do.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. I mean that for you today, for reading my drivel. I truly mean it. Your attention for these mere minutes is a beautiful gift and one I do not take for granted. If you would indulge me just a little further, go say thanks. To God and to others. It can be quick—lovely things often are. Go now—it most certainly will not be bad for you or them. And you may be surprised how much good it will summon.