In a climate that is filled with as much incivility as we are experiencing in the U.S. during 2018 it’s sometimes hard to find the lighter side of life; to find things to appreciate; to express one’s thanks for the good things in life. Can we take a few minutes together to chat about that this morning?
Let’s start out with a little language. Appreciation is recognizing a thing, it’s full understanding of a thing while gratitude extends to expressing appreciation in some way. The two are linked, but you can have appreciation without (as it were, going the extra step of) gratitude.
In times of loss (such as death) people are overcome with grief and with regret. So often people take death as an opportunity to “make up for” what kindness or appreciation they didn’t feel for the departed during their life. We are trying to say what we never said before — whether there were causative reasons for our failure, or it was simply circumstantial — they weren’t around, etc..
Considering how many people are upset about what’s going on in the world right now it is probably harder than ever to break out of that mindset and find things to appreciate or to be grateful for. But in a world being torn apart by hostility and by opposition it may never in our lifetime be as important to exercise those other qualities of our humanity like gratitude, like appreciation.
I think one of the reasons that’s true is inertia. It takes effort to break the pattern of things. That is change and at a time when there is a lot of change going on — much of it change that neither we nor anyone else wants to see, embracing even more change is difficult. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know.
It would be easy to get cynical — to feel, and to sa, that “some things never seem to change” — that people are jerks and fools are hard to suffer and … well, you all have rehearsed the reasons to embrace your sullen attitudes often enough that you don’t need any reminders of the reasons you (personally) have found for being glum and grumpy. But you are the only person who is empowered to change your own attitudes and refusing to do so is simply a prescription for continuing frustration and anger.
Lately I’ve been vocal about speaking out about wrongs and injustices — but never think that a big part of my day isn’t appreciating the wonders around me — because it is. I am angry that injustice continues; that the poor suffer, that the sick are not healed, that the lonely find no succor — but I’m not so narrow minded as not to realize that amid great suffering there is also great joy, great love, great kindness; that there are amazing mysteries to be found on this planet; that nature is a constant source of fascination; that relationships are a touchstone for the best in humankind — and that no matter how horrible the acts and the motivations of some people there are others who can and should inspire and empower us all.
It’s a personal choice, this decision to gratitude. No one is forcing us to make it. And if we refuse the only one who suffers is — yourself. I do not dimish the world if I’m bitter. I only diminish myself.
That’s one of the reasons Peg & I have been doing things like visiting gardens lately. Or taking short drives to scenic places, or to places we love, or places we have always wanted to visit. We are willing to say, “we know we need to be uplifted, so we’re going to do what we need to do to get there.” Private devotions can be part of a person’s routine. So can volunteerism. Group activities can do the same thing — so long as your group doesn’t get bogged down in whining about all the things going wrong in the world right now. Personal goals can help — the writer who wants to put something down on paper; the woodworker who builds a highboy for a daugher getting married; the lawyer who helps an aging neighbor set up a family trust; there are a gazillion ways we can find to “send flowers” to the living — and they are all just as personal as our own personalities, skills, and loves.
I thought that quotation from Anne Frank was particularly helpful to me. I hope you remember it for a few days and maybe it will remind you about what it means to be human.