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Thanksgiving 2020 – Gratitude takes nothing for granted

A constant refrain from 2020 is, this is a __________ like no other. Fill in the blank with Mother’s Day, Easter, the May 24 long weekend, summer, Labour Day, …. Everything. And now Thanksgiving takes its place. This is a Thanksgiving that we will remember for a long time.

Despite everything we have been through in this strange year, we have so much to be grateful for. Those reading this are still alive and well enough to read. We presumably have food and shelter. Our electricity and Internet is working. We are likely still engaged with things – work, projects, grandchildren, plans, and so on. All is not lost.

Thanksgiving reminds us of God’s countless gifts and unlimited goodness – all reasons for a constant stance of gratitude.  Thomas Merton wrote that gratitude takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience.

It is all too easy for us to take things, people, health and security for granted. The year of the pandemic may change that complacency. What happens when the unanticipated occurs in our lives, when a person is no longer there, when health disappears, when tragedy happens? Are we prepared? Otherwise, it’s only too late that we say thank you, for instance, after a loved one has died.

I read a short piece about gratitude in an issue of Canadian Running magazine. Danielle Roberts wrote of her experience of running the Banff Jasper Relay. She met Darla, a young woman who shared why she was running a race in support of the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada.

Darla’s mother had experienced two brain tumours (full disclosure: so have I!), her sister one, and her father had died of cancer. Realizing how much pain Darla had borne, Danielle was moved to gratitude and added it to her list of reasons for running.

The next time you’re out on a run think of the people and moments that you’re thankful for. I did something similar for years. When you’re running a race, you need to use mental tricks to stay motivated. My practice used to be to devote each kilometre to a particular person in my life, for instance different family members, friends, and strangers that I knew were in need of prayer. This practice helped to keep my mind off how I was feeling or any problems that I may have had.

As I grow in knowledge of the many problems in the world and as I hear about individuals and families who carry amazingly painful experiences, I grow in a sense of gratitude and humility about the relatively privileged life I lead. My complaints are petty! Why can’t I be more thankful for all I have!

here are spiritual writers who stress that the heart of the spiritual life is gratitude. If I am grateful, my heart cannot have room for selfishness, jealousy, anger or pettiness. We know that an attitude of gratefulness is not limited to those who have perfect health, wealth or safety.

The poorest single mother in an impoverished and violent situation can oftentimes be more filled with thanksgiving than someone who has it all. That woman’s gratitude spills over into the all the ways of proceeding of her life. She is generous with her few possessions and her sharing of love.

The sickest man, lying on his deathbed, can be tremendously grateful for his life and for the ways in which his illness and imminent death have served to reconcile people who were alienated in his family.

We are celebrating Thanksgiving Day. It’s a day to focus on gratitude. But it’s not the only day for us to live that attitude. Let’s try to wake each day and express gratefulness – for all that we have in our lives and for all those acts of kindness that are offered by others. It may be a year unlike any of us expected, but we still have many reasons for gratitude.