As small children most of us were instructed to say "Please" and "Thank You". My parents had a difficult time teaching me to say them correctly. They would ask me to do something - hold a dustpan - and then would say the word "please" in an effort to get me to repeat it. As a three year old, however, I was confident that whenever someone said please, I should say "Thank You", which I did. They would hand me a dustpan, and I would thank them for giving it to me.
Growing up, I became aware that there are a lot of mixed messages about being thankful in our society. In the movies we see military personnel, who are having a difficult time, even being punished, saying "Thank you, sir. Can I have another?" We hear New Thought gurus telling us that if we express gratitude "enough" or in a certain way, we will be showered with unimagined abundance. On television we are being sent image after image of the wonderful "thank you" we will receive if we just give the right gift, at the right time, in the right way.
How did we get so mixed up about being grateful?
In the ancient world, expressions of community gratitude often occurred when the harvest was successfully brought in, or when a battle was won, or when someone returned after a long journey, or when a child reached his or her first birthday.
In America today, our smaller communities celebrate gratitude when a couple gets married, when a friend returns from the war, when a political leader wins an election or when a baby is born. Our only celebration of gratitude as a country occurs at Thanksgiving. Unlike July 4th, when we leave our homes to celebrate with other members of the greater community, Thanksgiving is usually a family affair involving lots of food and football.
But not for everyone. In New Jersey, the average age of a homeless person is 9. That means there are a lot of homeless children, and families who will be celebrating Thanksgiving this year. I wonder what they are thankful for? A friend once asked a homeless woman what she missed most in life, now that she was homeless. Her response was that she missed pie. If you became homeless tomorrow, what would you miss the most?
Thanksgiving is a wonderful opportunity to look at our lives, and realize all that we have to be grateful for. We spend so much of our year focused on what we need to do, what has been left undone, and whatever is wrong in our lives. In the midst of all that is going on around us, allow yourself a moment to remember all that is right in the world, and in your life. Studies have shown that those few moments of gratitude can increase your sense of well-being.
What are you grateful for?
The Rev. Paula Roper is an Independent Interfaith Minister in New Providence, New Jersey. She is available for spiritual counseling, weddings and other life cycle ceremonies.
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