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If the only prayer you saidIn your whole life was ‘thank you’, that would suffice.
Our lives are demonstrations of gratitude.
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.