I read the news today. Oh, boy.
Bombs in a Belgian airport and subway platform. Scores killed dropping off loved ones to catch a plane or disembarking from a train on their way home or to work. A peaceful, gentle Muslim shopkeeper in Scotland was stabbed to death after posting on his Facebook account “Good Friday and a very Happy Easter, especially to my beloved Christian nation…Let’s follow the real footstep of beloved holy Jesus Christ and get the real success in both worlds.”
Meanwhile, the American political scene is…well, it’s difficult to find the proper descriptor, really. Allow me to turn to Greenville’s own incisive pundit, 11-year-old mildly autistic Daniel Swensen, who channeled his inner Charles Krauthammer and Maureen Dowd in assessing recently a video montage of our current crop of Presidential hopefuls: “Dad…I think they might be CRAZY, man!”
The daily home front can be troubling, too. Something as prosaic and straightforward as arriving at the dinner table in a timely fashion, getting showered and dressed for school, or completing Algebra homework can cause us to turn the Swensen family DEFCON meter to “4” with shocking speed. I sometimes wonder what family therapists and police officers hear when they seek information concerning the onset of a domestic dispute:
“So, tell me Mr. Swensen, how did all your windows come to be shattered and why did your wife and children request emergency asylum to Upper Slabovia?”
“Well, officer, it all began when I asked Abby to get off the Ipod and she said ‘OK, wait a second.’”
It’s a sad indictment of our human condition, particularly for most of us in the United States, that we find it a challenge to notice all the good stuff floating around us every day. We tend to take it for granted. What’s the big deal, say, with running water? With a roof over one’s head? With shoes? With food? With a daily source of laughter or love?
Many of us forget, or never realized in the first instance, that lots of people don’t enjoy those blessings as often as we do, if they ever do at all. And there are plenty of existential grace notes that we all get to enjoy but rarely register: the warm feeling of the sun on your face on a spring day, the smell of firewood wafting through the air on a fall evening, the sound of birds chirping, an unexpected hug, the frisson of joy at encountering a well-turned phrase, a human connection marked by honesty and intimacy.
I have a cousin in Pittsburgh, Andrew, a very heady and poetic type. While we are quite different in our tastes, backgrounds, and personal characteristics (i.e., he’s extremely smart and gifted), we do share a few things in common, one of which is a genuine desire to remain vigilant to, and thankful for, the positive stuff that visits us on a regular basis. With this in mind he began a closed group on Facebook, a group he called “Gratitude Gathering 2016.” The “gathering” consists of 30 people in his circle, friends, colleagues, and family from across the country, each of whom post their “gratitudes” (one per day) from the preceding week.
My participation has yielded a couple of benefits I found surprising. For one thing, while I expected it would help me focus on the every-day slices of beauty and goodness God grants me on a regular basis, the volume and variety of blessings — people, experiences, sensations, thoughts — has been an epiphany. Ninety or so days into it, I have yet to repeat myself and I suspect I won’t for the entire year.
In addition, the participants’ entries highlight how universal our shortcomings and disappointments are. In expressing gratitude for various things, the other folks sometimes mention losses or sources of pain as a point of contrast or context: “I had a wonderful conversation with my son yesterday. We hadn’t spoken for many years and our relationship had always been full of conflict and anger”, “I celebrated three years of sobriety this week,” “I am growing to accept myself after years of self-loathing caused by….” And so on and so forth. Finally, disciplining myself to read their contributions each week has opened my eyes to a multitude of perks that I shared and—despite my own best efforts to become more attentive—and was STILL blind to.
As my favorite home-grown pundit might say, “Dad, you’re crazy, man!” Indeed.
Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.