Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Gratitude: How quickly we forget

Tonight I attended a learning event where Lori Palatnick gave the keynote address. One of the takeaways from her speech was that gratitude is the foundation of our spiritual well-being.

Gratitude - such a simple little thing. All it is, is the ability to say "thank you". Two little words. Thank you.

I learned about this concept in a book called Praying with Fire, where the author wrote the book in a format where there is a little golden nugget to learn each day that should infuse one's praying with greater spirituality, meaning, etc. One of the golden nuggets is that one can express gratitude every day for any item/event/happenstance that may occur that day and express gratitude at that time, and not wait for a specific time to pray. So, for instance, if one is running late to a meeting and manages to drive through a green light, one can be grateful for that and say, "Thank you G-d for this green light - this really helps my day!" Or, that night's experimental dinner came out exceptionally tasty: "Thank you G-d for this tasty dinner - thanks for not having to resort to PB&J for dinner!" By thanking G-d for these little, "insignificant" things, we bring to the forefront just how involved G-d is in our daily lives, every minute detail that transpires. Not only are we grateful to Hashem for the major things in life (health, financial stability, children, life partners, family, friends, etc), but we are also grateful for all of the "minor" things that make our life possible. This concept was my major takeaway from this book and since then I have incorporated thanking Hashem daily for the smallest things (thank you Hashem for finding me this close parking space, thank you Hashem for the laundry that didn't shrink, thank you Hashem for giving me a coupon for this item, etc).

This concept was brought to earth for me, in a different way, by a special family that used to live in St. Louis. I had many Shabbat meals with them, and their Shabbat dinners, especially in the summertime, would last a long time. It was not unheard of for me to come home around midnight. Part of what took so long was this amazing custom that they had. They regularly had 20+ guests at their home, from all walks of life, and between the fish course and the soup course, everyone went around the table saying what they were grateful for in that week, with a l'chaim after each person. The introduction was always by the wife and she went first, and we went all around the table and ended with her husband. Anything was fair game, nothing was "insignificant". So, one could be grateful for having a roof over their head, another grateful for their spouse, and another grateful for a successful sales meeting they had that week. One person could be grateful that their favorite brand of socks was on sale that week, and another person grateful for just a quiet week and nothing unusual. Some guests had a long list, and some had a short list. Typically, I would have tears in my eyes by the end of the whole thing, just thinking that we ALL - no matter what happened - have an immensely long list, when it really comes down to it. We are all alive and we are all free. How quickly we forget the amazing things we take for granted just so that we can pursue the normal life that we want to lead.

So, if you come to my home, either Shabbat dinner or Shabbat lunch, you will experience this custom. I was so moved by it that my husband and I adopted it as our own. We do this with my family, and we do this with friends. We do this with guests who we've never met before.

Gratitude. Just say "thank you".

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