With Thanksgiving approaching for those of us in America, I’ve been thinking about gratitude. Gratitude or thankfulness I believe stems primarily from two aspects: perspective and choice.
When I think about gratitude as a matter of perspective, I see children. I remember back quite a few years ago when my south-east coast town was in the grips of a hurricane (not uncommon). This hurricane had brought more rain than wind, and the city was rapidly flooding. Driving home from work, I drove through a flooded intersection where the water was much deeper than the previous few flooded intersections, and my car cut off. There I was, stranded in a neighborhood far from my house, with a dead car that was about to start filling up with water any minute, and no cell phone. (Yes, cell phones had been invented, but I had not invested in such technology yet).
I had a lot to be thankful for in that moment, though it didn’t feel like it. I was alive. The person whose house I’d stalled in front of let me come inside and dry off and use the phone. When I finally did get home, my house was not flooded. But what struck me the most in that difficult and unpleasant moment was the neighborhood children.
Their perspective was not one of “what if the house floods? What if the car stalls? What if we lose power?” These kids had put on their swimming trunks, grabbed their boogie boards, and were out surfing in the street. The water was a good two feet deep and flowing fast – so what else do you do when your road has turned into a literal river? You go out and play in it, of course!
A lot of people lost their cars and more in that storm. And I’m sure those kids were old enough and smart enough to understand that when everything was over. But in that moment, they were filled with joy. They may have even been filled with gratitude because their afternoon had turned from one of homework and playing alone in their rooms to a surprise day at a water park. Perspective.
My little nephews are also teaching me about perspective. I just recently moved into a new house; actually, it’s a very old house, which is both fun and challenging. Lately I’ve found myself focusing on all the things I still don’t have and all the things that need fixing up or changing. But my nephews don’t see it that way.
What I see is a ramshackle old house with so many holes and cracks that mice have moved in. (It’s not ramshackle – the house is actually in excellent shape, and I know that even brand new houses can get mice. Especially when we get an early snow and the mice are trying to find shelter).
Anyway, my nephews don’t see an old house that needs fixing. They see Aunt Grace’s house with a big carpeted living room where they can jump and tumble, and a cabinet devoted exclusively to their toys, and a big yard full of apples and pears (well, before it snowed).
What I see is a shower that doesn’t have a diverter, so you can’t fill up the tub from the faucet – the shower head is the only thing that works. I see a bathtub window that needs a new paint job and sealing to keep the moisture out (windows in the tub/shower were not uncommon in 1920s/30s construction). But if my nephews take a bath at my house, all they see is the world’s coolest tub where they get to take a shower like big boys but still play in the bath, and it even has a window.
The perspective of a child is naturally one of gratitude, I think, and of seeing the best in any circumstance. As we grow up, we learn to lose that perspective. Sure, you can boogie board in the street, but I have a ruined car and an insurance claim. Sure, I have an awesome, comfortable, safe house, but I also have an expensive bathroom upgrade job and vermin under my kitchen sink.
I can see both perspectives, and so now this is where choice comes in. I can choose to focus on the negatives, on the difficulties, on all the things that are going wrong or all the things I don’t have. Or I can choose to take joy in what I do have. I can choose to count my blessings, to enjoy all the wonderful things about my home and my life.
I can choose a perspective of gratitude.
Which perspective will you choose?