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If the only prayer you saidIn your whole life was ‘thank you’, that would suffice.

—Meister Eckhardt 

Our lives are demonstrations of gratitude. 

  —Laura Baring-Gould 

Think about what the world would be like if more people simply said “thank you”. Although we say thank you to people on a daily basis, there is a practice of gratitude that goes beyond a cursory exchange or what is expected etiquette. This is important as a beginning, but the gratitude it seems we need more of is the acknowledgement of how precious each experience can be. 

Albert Einstein said that “You can live your life as if nothing is a miracle, or as if everything is a miracle.” This is the depth of gratitude that can help us build a healthier culture and create stronger relationships—even with those we dislike or with whom we disagree. Gratitude, in this sense, is the practice of peacemaking and sustainability. It is about embracing rather than denying our connectedness—both in the workplace and in the world.

When thinking about gratitude, I like to think of the common root of humble and human, meaning “to be close to the earth”. Like humus, that precious component of soil that gives it life, how can our humility and humanity—through the practice of giving thanks, create an experience and a world that is more alive? Can we meet challenges or embrace difficulty by being grateful for what we are being taught? Is there a way that gratitude can dissolve conflict, without stepping aside, but by stepping toward? 

I’ve heard the distinction drawn between optimism and hope as being one where optimism is the belief that everything will turn out all right, or according to plan, where hope is about seeing possibility in a dark time. With all that challenges us in the world as we try in our own ways to build community, to foster social change, and to heal the planet, gratitude can be a practice that helps us maintain hope and connection. It can help us acknowledge the challenges that exist around us and meet them with a sense of purpose. 

In that spirit, and with great hope for the future, I wanted share the following poem from W.S. Merwin: 


with the night falling we are saying thank you

we are stopping on the bridge to bow from the railings

we are running out of the glass rooms

with our mouths full of food to look at the sky

and say thank you

we are standing by the water looking out in different directions 

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging

after funerals we are saying thank you

after the news of the dead

whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

in a culture up to its chin in shame

living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you 

over telephones we are saying thank you

in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators

remembering wars and the police at the back door

and the beatings on the stairs we are saying thank you

in the banks that use us we are saying thank you

with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable

unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you 

with the animals dying around us

our lost feelings we are saying thank you

with the forests falling faster than the minutes

of our lives we are saying thank you

with the words going out like cells of a brain

with the cities growing over us like earth

we are saying thank you faster and faster

with nobody listening we are saying thank you

we are saying thank you and waving

dark though it is. 

December 2005