You sound a lot like my late (earthly) father with today’s lessons on manners in Luke’s gospel: Ten lepers had been healed, and yet only one returned to thank Jesus. So Jesus turned to that man–a Samaritan, of course, because those guys always get it right—and said, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
If my dad left me with one lesson before he died, it was this: always say thank you. Even on his deathbed he thanked his wife for changing his adult diapers.
“Never forget to say thank you.” That was his epitaph.
I make sure to thank the waiter for my sparkling water with lime, a neighbor for giving me two eggs and a cup of vegetable oil, a friend for helping me look an hour for my keys, which were in my pocket.
Yesterday, as I stretched out in a cardiologist’s office watching a sonogram of my heart, I was filled with awe at the miracle of life—how the aortic valve pumps like a clapping pair of cymbals, allowing every other organ to thrive. As I looked at the screen, at this visual display of life, I remembered the first sonograms of my babies—the first moments I saw their tiny beating hearts, evidence that both were healthy pregnancies, and that I was, quite literally, a carrier of life.
And because I have emerged from a tormenting pit of despair, I can now recognize so many blessings in my life that before went unnoticed: a husband who’s willing to wear the Martha Stewart apron because it doesn’t fit me; a little boy who is growing in curiosity, intelligence, and sensitivity; a magical girl who was named class clown at age two by her preschool teacher.
For everything that doesn’t go wrong—library books returned on time without marker damage, a good parallel park job, pumpkin-pie-flavored ice-cream downtown–I give you thanks. You know that, right?
But when I can’t find the library books that were due two months ago–for which we’ve been fined a fee three times their cost–and after three tries I still can’t park the car without its but hanging out like Katherine’s does, and when Maggie Moo’s Ice Cream no longer carries pumpkin-pie flavor, I’m out of thank-yous. When things happen independent of my script–and that’s often in the world of a mentally ill addict–my thank-you’s hang out with those Jehovah Witnesses on bikes—they’re not allowed in the house.
For pointers on how to stay grateful while sitting in a massive accumulation of animal waste, I guess I should look to my favorite saints.
My patron saint, Therese of Lisieux, wrote:
For me, prayer is the heart’s impulse, a simple gaze toward heaven. It is a cry of gratitude and love, from the depths of trial as well as the heights of joy.
Mother Teresa wrote:
If [my darkness and emptiness] brings You glory, if You get a drop of joy from this—if souls are brought to You—if my suffering satiates Your Thirst—here I am Lord, with joy I accept all to the end of life—and I will smile at Your Hidden Face—always.
Not me. I get more frustrated than Ronald McDonald without his sesame buns, madder than the Sea Witch in “The Little Mermaid.” How do those two great souls keep smiling through their crap?
I read somewhere that by saying thank you, we change our orientation from ourselves to another: that gratitude is an act of selflessness and is the purest form of prayer. Does this mean that I’m selfish and self-absorbed if I can’t be grateful when I’m mad?
I know I have a ways to go in this whole Oprah-ish positive-thinking stuff. I need your help. Teach me how to be grateful even in those very painful, I-really-wish-I-were-dead moments. Like Mother Teresa and my patron saint were. Because I’ve got the easy part down.
Remind me of my echocardiogram–of the vision of my heart beating to a semi-rapid beat thanks to my love affair with Starbucks–in those hours in the future when I’m blind to the beauty of life and, like the nine ungrateful lepers, I forget to say thank you.