When I was a kid my mom would “set up” my toothbrush for me. Before school and before bed, she would put the toothpaste on my toothbrush and set it out in the bathroom for me. It wasn’t anything taxing or extravagant, it didn’t put her out nor did it seriously affect my mornings. It was simply a kind, loving gesture.
I don’t know if gratitude becomes easier or harder when you get older. I’d like to think I’m growing wiser and thus more easy with thanks, but as each year goes by and I learn more about both ups and downs, I’m tempted to let things fall off my gratitude list and into the trash heap of bitterness.
I used to be vaguely grateful for my health. I knew how blessed I was to be well. But then I got sick, and it wasn’t my fault or anybody’s fault and my list of thankfulness changed. Oddly, it grew rather than shortening. Suddenly I was grateful for a doctor who treated me conservatively rather than pumping me full of drugs, for proximity to big hospitals where I could easily be tested, for mild medicines that cleared up my constant nausea, for more days of feeling well than days of vomiting.
I used to be vaguely grateful for my family. My large extended family was happy and healthy and it seemed like nothing tragic ever happened to anyone. And then people died and that paradigm shattered into a million pieces. When illusory perfection fell off the list reality crowded in to take its place. I was grateful for laughter and children and communication and familiarity and ease. I was grateful for time together and shared memories, for the same stories told over and over.
I used to be vaguely grateful for my faith. I believe in God – I just DO, and it’s a gift – and I am convinced of God’s love in my life. But when life became more difficult and my faith was challenged – by sickness, by anger, by impatience – the list of thankfulness grew even longer: for conviction which was honed over easier years, for a community which accepts faith even in dark times as the status quo, for God, who shows up to our conversations, to my life, even when I am frustrated or distracted.
My life is good, and I should be grateful, and I am grateful. As I grow and learn about the imperfections and trials of any life (even the good ones), I can’t be vaguely grateful anymore. Instead, I explode with particular thankfulness, for holidays and digesting joyful meals and for toothpaste put on my toothbrush for me. No matter how the ledger balances between hardships and joys, the part of my heart which wills to be vague will remain constant, insisting that no matter how specific the particulars, I am still grateful for everything.
For what, in particular, are you grateful this holiday?