Thankless kid grows up to see power of gifts
"Say thank you, Michael!"
How many times was I told that growing up? I was supposed to be thankful, and I didn't feel thankful. And even if I did appreciate the gift, saying "thank you" because I was supposed to somehow depreciated the "thank you." Not only on my end, either, for surely the thanked one knew it was just manners.
When I pointed this out, I was told, "No, no. If you get into the habit of saying thank you, you'll come to feel more thankful."
I never did.
"Gratitude is an attitude," I was told. "You must choose to be grateful."
I was a fairly obedient child. I acted grateful. All it did for me was to keep my attention on how I was supposed to respond, not on the good things for which I was supposed to be thankful, nor on the nice people who were gifting me.
"Aren't you thankful to God?" I was asked accusingly.
"Not particularly," I said. I knew my Bible and quoted back at my accusers, "God sends his rain on the just and the unjust alike." I figured God knew what I was and wasn't thankful for, and trying to fool Him would be pointless. And if He didn't know the difference, what was the point?
And yet, the truth was, and continues to be, that my life was littered with gifts and giftedness to which the rituals of thankfulness blinded me.
Each of us has been gifted, beginning with the loving sigh of intimacy that hooked us onto the chain of life. From infancy, each word, each hand, a gift that brought us into being. The helpers and nurturers: parents, family, friends, even adversaries, left their mark in and on us; the encouragers and challengers with and over -- against whom we shaped our being and were shaped.
Many are those whose paths crossed ours or traveled with us a ways. Each left something with us, even if not given as such, a gift, the value of which neither giver nor gifted could know at the time.
And sometimes a gift given backward, by those who permitted us to give to them; the gift of being willing to receive.
Those who need a "thank you" weren't giving a gift, but a debt. And they still might have given a gift without knowing it. The demand from us, or even a theft, is sometimes also ultimately a gift.
Our lives are a flowing river of gifts and giving. What is there that we can truly call our own when the truest owning is acceptance? The shape and fabric of our lives is an inheritance, unearned and un-earnable. Our birthright, the mystery of giving and given that surrounds us, from the ecstasy of the first giving that birthed us to the last gift accepted as we give ourselves up to the circle of giving of the cosmos.
No, the attitude of gratitude arises not from the "thank you," but from the shift of attention to the circle of giving and given that is this incredible universe.
May the season greet you with surprises, as small as a smile, that overwhelm your manners.
And, "thank you!" anyway.
The Rev. Mike Young is minister of the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu, a Unitarian Universalist Welcoming congregation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 347-3249.