Tennessee Williams said, “You know we live in light and shadow. That’s what we live in – a world of light and shadow; and it’s confusing.” (Orpheus Descending)
None of our lives is simple, but along comes Thanksgiving each year and the expectation is for us to emphasize that for which we are thankful regardless of how we might feel.
For some of us, gratitude comes easily, and for others feeling grateful is a significant challenge. I believe that nurturing gratitude is one of the most effective means to dispel the “shadow.” For some, pharmaceutical help is indicated, and I urge it if that is your situation. For most of us, we need a way to help ourselves get out into “light.”
I have a suggested exercise that may help. If each of us were to take out a blank sheet of paper and list on one side all the good things in our lives and all the negatives on the other, which side would be longer? Spare nothing in compiling your lists. On the positive side, start with “I am alive!” even if you are sick or in pain. Include all that you have – home, food, medical care, family, friends, the ability to see, hear, walk, use the bathroom, to help others. Take your time and make the list as detailed as you can.
Then list all the negatives. Include every ache and pain, every loss from which you have not been able to heal, the holes in your heart, your frustrations and aggravations, your unmet dreams, your overly thin-skin, your inability to control rage, envy, jealousy, resentment, your feeling victimized, etc.
Now, given the two lists, which one takes most of your time, vitality and attention?
For me, thankfully, the side in “light” is so much longer than the side in “shadow,” yet there are times that I spend proportionately too much time in “shadow.” Not good for me or for those around me, and I know it.
On Yom Kippur, I made a commitment that I would emphasize the “light” of my life and not the “shadow.” The good news for me is that I feel and express gratitude easily despite my spending more time in “shadow” than is good for me.
Yet, I wake up each morning usually feeling refreshed, and excited about the morning sun, the new day, new opportunities to learn, think and create, to be with the people I love and enjoy, and to do meaningful work in my synagogue and friendship communities.
If you too often find yourself in “shadow”, perhaps these quotations on the theme of gratitude can help make this Thanksgiving Day happier and every day more meaningful.
“Hodu l’Adonai ki tov, ki l’olam chasdo” (“Give thanks to God, for Adonai is good…God’s steadfast love is eternal.” – Psalm 136 (9th century, B.C.E.)
“When you arise in the morning give thanks for the morning light, for your life and strength. Give thanks for your food and the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies in yourself.” – Native American Prayer, Tecumseh Tribe
“How strange we are in the world, and how presumptuous our doings! Only one response can maintain us: gratefulness for witnessing the wonder, for the gift of our unearned right to serve, to adore, and to fulfill. It is gratefulness which makes the soul great.” – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972)
“Ingratitude to a human being is ingratitude to God.” – Rabbi Samuel Hanagid (993-1056 CE)
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” – William Arthur Ward, American scholar, author, pastor and teacher (1921-1997)
“Gratitude, not understanding, is the secret to joy and equanimity.” – Anne Lamott, writer (b. 1954)
“Thank everyone who calls out your faults, your anger, your impatience, your egotism; do this consciously, voluntarily.” – Jean Toomer, poet and novelist (1894-1967)
“We should write an elegy for every day that has slipped through our lives unnoticed and unappreciated. Better still, we should write a song of thanksgiving for all the days that remain.” – Sarah Ban Breathnach, author (b 1948)
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” – Cicero, Roman philosopher (106 BC – 43 BC)
“If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘Thank you,’ that would suffice.” – Meister Eckhart, German theologian, philosopher (1260-1328)
“I can no other answer make but thanks, and thanks, and thanks, and ever thanks.” – William Shakespeare (1564-1616)