Say thank you. That’s the first command I drilled into my children. They’d comply in their baby-speak with something that sounded a bit like “thank you.”
Other commands met with less success: Get off that roof. Stop hitting your brother. Do not put the dog in the dryer. Be home by midnight, or else.
If you’re a parent, much of what you say to your children seems to fall on deaf ears. Then one day your kids grow up and you hear them repeat those same things to your grandkids.
Recently, it was my pleasure to hear my youngest say to his youngest, “No shrieking!”
I hope I’m still here when he tries to teach her how to drive.
Of all that I’ve tried to teach my children, few things matter more to me than gratitude.
“You need to say thank you,” I often told them, “and you need to say it like you mean it.”
That’s also true for “I’m sorry,” “I’m fine” and “I love you.” If you can’t say something like you mean it, chances are you don’t.
Gratitude changes everything. The one who is thanked feels appreciated. The one who is thankful is healed, transformed from a state of need to a state of grace. And everything around them — the people they love, the air they breathe and the time they share — will be blessed.
Most of what I know about gratitude I learned in the four years my first husband battled cancer. At times, I felt hopeless and abandoned. I kept thinking, “Why is this happening to us?”
When I confessed that to a friend, she said, “List five things you’re thankful for every day. Write them down at night and read them in the morning.”
“What if I don’t feel thankful?”
“Do it anyhow,” she said. “Actions can change feelings.”
So I did it, and it changed me. It didn’t change what we were facing. But it changed me.
By the end of those four years, as the Coach grew weary in body and spirit, I struggled to keep us both afloat. Finally, I gave him a notebook like the lab books he’d required his physics students to keep, and told him, “I want you to record five things that you are thankful for every day.”
“What if I don’t do it?” he said.
“I’ll hide your TV remote.”
So he did it, and it changed him. It didn’t change his illness. But it allowed him to let go of things beyond his control and focus instead on being fully alive in the time that he had left.
Gratitude healed his spirit, even as his body was dying.
He often included me on his thankful list, but he always put God first. He said God never threatened to hide his remote.
I’ve told that story many times but I think it’s worth repeating, especially at Thanksgiving.
We shouldn’t need a holiday to remind us to be thankful. But we are busy and distracted and the world is beset by division, heartache, hatred and fear.
Thanksgiving invites us to join hands with those we love and celebrate our many blessings. It invites us to do other things, too: To make memories. Tell stories. And eat more in a day than we usually eat in a week.
But mostly it’s about gratitude.
I asked my grandchildren what they are thankful for. Randy, 7, is thankful for his mom. Wiley, 4, is thankful for his mom and Randy and their family. Eleanor, almost 3, is thankful for her toys. Henry, 6, is thankful for his life. Charlotte, 6, is thankful for pumpkin pie and her brother Archer. And Archer, 9 months, didn’t answer because he was sleeping with a full belly in his mama’s arms.
I am thankful for all of them and countless other blessings. This year, as always, I’ll set two tables: One in my daughter’s dining room for loved ones who will be with us; and the other in my heart for those who will be with us in spirit only, living or departed, but not forgotten.
I’ll set a place for you at that second table, and I’ll count on you to set one for me.
On Thanksgiving Day, and every day, let us give thanks. And may the healing power of gratitude fill us to overflowing.