I don’t like the custom of sitting around the holiday table and sharing that for which I am thankful. I always feel self conscious and believe I need to express something spectacular or worth mentioning. Having heat in our home when so many go without shelter or the fact that we can afford to pay the utilities top my list of blessings. The mere fact that I am alive and able to prepare some portion of the meal always seems like an obvious choice for sharing. Yet when it comes to gratitude, I can think of a thousand things a day that inspire my awe and thankfulness. Right now I see remnants of fall, tall oak trees retaining their leaves until new ones buds, shrubs that vary in color from a rosy salmon to deep plum.
I remember many years ago when I was nearing age 40, I decided to throw a party for myself. It had become clear that I needed to learn to celebrate myself instead of bemoaning the fact that no one was surprising me with a celebration. I diligently made a list of about 90 people, some friends, others colleagues to invite. I showed it to my friend, Terry, who smiled and gently said, “Lerita, you cannot fit 90 people in your town home. Why don’t you invite the 40 people who helped you to make it to age 40?” I thought it was a brilliant idea. Thus, a simple and elegant party with friends from my varied life of work, church, sewing, and book club became one of my most treasured memories.
Now that I am past the season that emphasizes shopping and baking I find myself yearning for more simple moments of gratitude. Pausing for some reflection on this and the 22nd Anniversary of my heart transplant, I decided to make a list of the top five people or occasions that fill my heart with joyful appreciation. These are moments of light or enlightened people who brightened me in the darkness and who made me the person I am today. Here is what is on my all time gratitude list.
1) My parents, but not for the typical reason people give. Certainly, I wouldn’t be here without them but I thank my parents most for being so hard-working, devoted to their children, and self sacrificing so my siblings and I could attend Catholic or Christian school. Catholic school is where I learned to be disciplined and to orient my day around the Great Spirit. At an early age and in this setting, I became aware of an unseen but very present Spirit available for comfort and guidance. Thank you Mom and Dad, for all of the financial, physical, and emotional sacrifices. I wish you were still physically present so I could express my thanks with many hugs and kisses.
2) A heart transplant 22 years ago. I cannot think of anything that is more transformative than to face death. I realized that I had to shift from being a driven workaholic to thinking about something and someone other than myself and my career. Despite the terror and outright physical suffering involved, my transplant triggered a spiritual awakening in me that is beyond measure. The trauma demanded that I cultivate trust, create an awareness of the love and care from others and generate in me a totally different way of viewing life. I now understand that life is about forgiveness, healing, love, connection, peace and joy.
3) Fall. The simple, elegant, and natural beauty of fall leaves me in awe each year. It is by far my favorite season (with the exceptional beauty of spring following in second place). Each October-December, I look outside of my bedroom or office window into a yard of varying colors of greens, yellows, browns, and fiery red leaves. The Japanese maple trees were particularly spectacular this fall. So many of them look like they were on fire. I cannot believe that people rush past them or can drive down a tree-lined street without being moved by the colors. Quite frankly, I pause, frequently because I find it disheartening to see something so beautiful without acknowledging its existence. I suspect the same could be said for falling snowflakes and new snow. But there is some special about yellow, orange, and tan leaves across a backdrop of green leaves and forest green pines.
4) My spiritual teachers. I still remember when, Jan Willis (author of Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist and Buddhist—One Woman’s Spiritual Journey) taught my college roommate and me, how to meditate. We didn’t have any idea what we were doing as we sat cross-legged on the floor, with our beads, chanting a Sanskrit mantra for Dorje Sempa, the deity to end all suffering. The practice of finding a way to quiet my mind, whether through chanting, focusing on my breathing or being still, opened me to an entirely new world of readings by wisdom figures from all over the world. Since that time I’ve been moved and blessed by the teachings of Howard Thurman, Thomas Kelly, Rumi, Hafiz, Richard Rohr, Nan Merrill, Joyce Rupp and a host of others. Now when I take my daily quiet time, I read a prayer or inspirational reading in English with the same intention; to heal, to be a healer and to end all suffering in the world.
5) An awareness that there is something more in the world than what I see with my physical eyes. I know there is an energy force of Love that permeates everything and that Stillness holds it all together with a deep peace. I feel happy that I can dialogue with Something more vast than my mind can imagine. If I had to choose just one thing to be thankful for, it would be a growing awareness of the Presence and that I can turn inward at any time to access whatever guidance I need.
This deep sense of gratitude is what is motivates me in this new year and on this special day in which I honor my heart donor, Jody Goetz and her family as well as hold my kidney donor, Jennifer Lund in that gift of a heart. During the holiday season I tended to rail against all of the commercialism, emphasis on gift giving, and seemingly temporary concern with those less fortunate. Now I don’t have to focus on what I don’t like when I can concentrate on what easily pleases me.
I will always be grateful for my parents, heart and kidney transplants, fall, spiritual teachers, an expanding spiritual awareness, and the people who have helped me to remain alive and thrive. I find the love sparks great peace and joy in my heart.
So what’s on your top five list of people, places or events that create a deep sense of gratefulness in you? Can you nurture this spirit in yourself today and maintain during 2017? Will creating an all time gratefulness list and sharing the spirit of gratitude bring you closer to the peace and joy in your heart?