"Thank you for the world so sweet,
Thank you for the food we eat,
Thank you for the birds that sing,
Thank you, God, for everything."
- Child’s Mealtime Blessing
Thanksgiving is a day set aside, as Abraham Lincoln wrote in his 1863 Proclamation, to remember “the gracious gifts of the Most High God.” On that fourth Thursday of November, whatever the nature of our religious beliefs, many of us do indeed pause, often in the presence of family and friends, to give thanks for the year’s gifts and blessings.
But what about the rest of the year? How often in our daily routine do we offer thoughts of gratitude simply for being alive, weird, fascinating creatures inhabiting this spinning miracle of a globe?
G.K. Chesterton tells us “gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” If we absorb those words, we understand Chesterton was correct. Gratitude is happiness—an interior joy—coupled with a sense of awe. Because we spend a good deal of our time working, dealing with children and household chores, running errands, bewitched by electronic screens, caught up, in short, in the struggles of basic living, we become inured to the miracle of which we are a part. Obligation and necessity narrow our vision. We see, yes, but with eyes too busy for apprehension.
In Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town, one of the main characters, Emily, dies in childbirth, but is given the chance to leave the cemetery and relive one day of her life. Emily picks her twelfth birthday. After spending a short time in her family’s kitchen, she realizes how little human beings appreciate the mysteries surrounding them on every side. She asks the Stage Manager about this blindness:
“EMILY: "Does anyone ever realize life while they live it...every, every minute?"
STAGE MANAGER: "No. Saints and poets maybe...they do some.”
For more than thirty years of my adult life, I was caught up in teaching and managing various businesses, raising four children, and meeting the usual obligations all of us face in this world. Like many of you reading my words, my wife and I would collapse exhausted into bed at the end of a typical day.
When describing to others how I saw things then, especially to people half my age who are today equally as busy, I use the example of a trench in the First World War. From ages eighteen to fifty-five, I was like a soldier in that trench, able to view the sky only as a patch of blue, a man who spent most of his time with his head down, focused on the battle at hand.
Sadly, that soldier experienced few moments of true joy and gratitude.
As I have grown older, however, I have gained an appreciation for beauty and wonder not felt since my childhood. Daily I am grateful for the miracles around me, for having been given the gift of life, for walking this earth and breathing its air, for loving certain people, for helping others in however small a fashion. Perhaps growing older brought me this new pair of glasses. Perhaps circumstances have simply slowed me down enough to learn to appreciate beauty.
Albert Einstein famously said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is a miracle.”
Gratitude helps us see that everything is a miracle.
[Image Credit: Max Pixel]
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Jeff Minick lives in Front Royal, Virginia, and may be found online at jeffminick.com. He is the author of two novels, Amanda Bell and Dust on Their Wings, and two works of non-fiction, Learning as I Go and Movies Make the Man.