Of all the arts, the art of simple gratitude is the most difficult to master. We take so much for granted in this life and that’s understandable. If we were to properly be thankful for this life, we couldn't get anything done! We would spend every moment appreciating the miraculous gifts of each day, each hour, each minute—bowing, writing poems of appreciation, hugging everyone telling them how much they mean to us.
Think about it. The simple act of awakening each morning in a body with a beating heart, breathing lungs, thinking mind, walking legs, is grounds enough to be thankful. No matter how difficult or disappointing or despairing we think our life is, we have been given another chance to turn it around—or at least wait for the next turn of the wheel of fortune to bring us better news.
The fact that we turn on the faucet and water comes out, turn on the stove and a flame cooks our oatmeal, go to the store and the wheels of the bike or car dutifully turn, enter the market and the food is there on the shelves as we hoped it would be, take out a plastic card or green bills and can walk away with food or clothing or the privilege of shelter—isn’t all of this miraculous? Why wouldn’t we get down on our knees each of these moments and thank the proper people or the spin of good fortune?
But of course, we take all of this for granted, expect that the world will fulfill its promise to us to keep us alive, to help us follow our dreams or fulfill our desires. We expect the people we love to be around forever, even as we know they won’t, and feel just fine about occasionally ignoring them or insulting them or casually saying hello and goodbye. Even in San Francisco, we assume that the ground we walk on will be solid, the water potable, the air breathable. It’s all just business as usual.
But as Joni Mitchell so wisely sang: “Don’t it only seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone…” Never in my 45 years in San Francisco did I look up the Air Quality Index, but after eight days of staying indoors, the number 61 (down from 285 at its worst!) is like spotting the oasis in the desert. The rain coming down outside the window has never been so heartily welcomed and appreciated. Another day with the fault lines holding steady and my house not shaking is just cause for gratitude. After tiptoeing right to the edge of the end of Democracy and votes counting, the Midterm Elections have restored my faith that the system may be broken, but still works enough to halt the runaway cart of encroaching Fascism that the shameless Republicans have allowed under a psychopathic leader. When you don’t take such things for granted, gratitude grows and determination to do the necessary work to both defend and appreciate the good things in this life is given new energy.
And Joni’s words rang true yet again as I just found out that my dear friend Edie Shaffer, my fellow singer in the weekly visits to the Jewish Home for the Aged, passed away yesterday. I worked hard to appreciate every moment I had with her, as I did with our mutual friend Fran Hament who left two years ago and of course, my Mom four years ago. Every time I had the privilege to be with them I was aware of the ticking clock of mortality and that gave a different weight and importance to each moment we were allowed to be together. Every time someone passes away, I feel surprised anew by the finality of it all, the end of opportunities to find out something new about them or ask questions or simply say goodbye knowing we’ll see each other next week for more joyful music around the piano. And then, suddenly, not.
What is the proper balance between conscious gratitude for each precious moment of life and simply living that life to the fullest? How much should we say thank you and to whom and how?
How often should we remind ourselves to take nothing for granted? How much should we say out loud to our friends and how much should we assume they know it?
Good questions to ponder on the eve of Thanksgiving.