“The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche.
I grew up in a God-fearing household. When your father is a minister, and a seven-day-a-week-Christian, there is no escaping the religious routines and rituals. Grace was expected before every meal, whether silently before breakfast, or out loud at the family meal. Once, when living in Jamaica, the skies opened one Sunday morning, which meant that no one was going to come to church. Instead of getting the day off, my father gathered us in the living room and proceeded with his planned service, sermon and all.
Our Christmas gift opening was a religious ceremony in itself. After Christmas dinner we would gather around the tree, and a unique process dictated the activities. Each child (I don’t recall if our parents were included) had a turn to pick a gift (any gift, it did not have to be theirs) and open it. The gift tag would be removed and passed to my mother, the tape carefully peeled off so as to keep the paper as intact as possible (and recycled), and finally my father would lead us in reciting “God bless…..” and we would fill in the blank with the name of the gift-giver. The whole event took a very long time, and probably helped to fill in the hours of a dark and gloomy winter’s day. Some of the gifts would be communal (like tins of English biscuits or if we were lucky, chocolates) and some of the gift givers would be an entire family. As the youngest I was challenged to be able to correctly recite, in the right order, all of the names. “God bless, Uncle Glyn, Auntie Lish, Megan, Michael, Vaughn, Linda and Alison.” You can imagine how impatient we would be, itching to go and play with our real (Father Christmas) gifts!
God bless was the common end to most conversations with our parents in later years. Where people now say “Love you!” my parents never failed to say “God bless”. Manners were also very important. As ministers’ children (in the USA the term is ‘PK’ – preachers’ kids) there was a certain level of behavior that we had to meet – always pleasant, polite and patient. When the family moved from England to Jamaica, we had special instructions that included the expectation that we were to wear hats to church (hated it!), and that when asked how we were doing we should reply: “Very well, thank you”, not “Fine thanks” or God forbid “OK”.
This week we have been reminded that Mother Nature is one who must be treated with respect and good manners. Matthew demanded respect and those who failed to prepare, or did not have the means to prepare and protect themselves, have felt his wrath. In the aftermath, particularly for those of us who felt very little from the storm, it is tempting to question the hype, the buildup and the pre-hurricane preparations. But like those in Jamaica who remembered the lesson that Gilbert taught them, in Florida we have enough memories of Andrew and Wilma and weeks without power to know that those who laugh at hurricanes will live to regret it!
And so we give thanks. Many of us in Dade and Broward received a gift of a long weekend. Of course those who work in hospitals and nursing homes and other 24 hour work environments had to leave their homes and put the needs of others first. And so we are thankful to them also. We give thanks for all of those who ‘prayed’ us up. We are mindful of those who are still in danger, or who have fared much worse.
One of the last things my father wrote for one of our high school alumni events in South Florida, was the prayer to be read as invocation. He had begun to show signs of the dementia that would eventually rob him of his memory but not his gentleness or his God. His simple prayer was entitled “Give thanks” and his closing line was “In all things, give thanks”. Like his own embellished graces, he listed those that were important to him, and to the Clarendon College family. There were no complex theological statements, no multi-syllabled words. Just a simple reminder: give thanks.
An attitude of gratitude ensures that life’s challenges as well as its blessings can give cause for joy. When we choose to be thankful at whatever life throws us we can find the silver lining in the darkest cloud. But there has to be activity to match the words. Another Jamaican alumni association has as its motto: Facta non Verba (deeds not words). Acts of nature may appear to be random, but what role do we play in climate change? What are we doing to lessen our carbon footprint, to reduce the garbage that washes up on the shore every day?
As we give thanks, we need to look for the lessons to be learned, for corrections we may need to make to our path. As we give thanks we need to remember those who are much less fortunate, that will need much help in the days to come. We shed tears for those in Haiti, who appear to have endured more than their fair share of woe, of trials and tribulations. We acknowledge the awesome force that is Mother Nature, an amazing mix of beauty and terror. We give thanks for all of the technology and appliances that keep us connected and informed and cool and well fed.
Have a wonderful weekend Family! In all things we give thanks.
And God bless Mum and Dad.