In Praise of Praise

I spent last evening making long, anxious To Do lists for the holiday week, and crawled into bed tired and short on Thanksgiving spirit. In the fuzzy moments before sleep, though, some tight knot spontaneously relaxed and a sentence formed itself in my mind. "You need Thanksgiving eyes." This was sufficiently weird to wake me up, and I sat for a few minutes thinking about the notion of Thanksgiving eyes. What? Ah, eyes that see what the heart feels when given a chance - gratitude, love, appreciation.

There are many days when I do not have grateful eyes. I scurry from one thing to the next, without really letting in the beauty around me. It is especially bad when I don't spend enough time outside. Along around late November, I need Thanksgiving to remind me what's worth noticing.

And yet, here is an unfortunate truth. Thanksgiving has the potential to make me crazier and less grateful than usual. There's the turkey and its endless side dishes. There's my perennial piecrust anxiety not to mention the unfinished bathroom and ubiquitous dog hair. Oh do I need Thanksgiving eyes. What I want is this: to sit at that table on Thursday, surrounded by people I love deeply, and s-l-o-w d-o-w-n enough to really really really open my heart to them.

When my husband and I were first dating, we treasured each other to pieces. We were both 30, old enough to know that love and partnership are nothing to take for granted. We used the word "appreciate" with one another a dozen times a day for maybe six months. We were swimming in thankfulness, grateful for each other and the love that was taking root between us. We were giddy with this gratitude, aglow with it.

The other day I asked my husband if he remembered those heady days. He did. But sadly neither of us could recall specifically what had made us sing such appreciation. We tried out a few extra-thankful sentences on one another, but it wasn't the same.

Of course, you might say, love was new back then. Of course we were happy, and happiness breeds gratitude. Not so, says Brother David Steindl-Rast, who writes extensively on gratitude. He says instead, "In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy." That's worth consideration. We can generate happiness, he is saying, simply by making a practice of gratitude.

Let's try it.

We can start with the young man I saw in a short video last night, a man whose bank would not give him money to buy land if the word "agriculture" was on the loan - he found a way, and is farming anyway. I want to live in a country where young people start small farms, and I am grateful to him for his perseverance.

I am grateful to know many people who are beginning to grow some of their own food. Here is a great video about a serious gardener who created a large garden at his rental home to see how much of his family's food he could raise himself. This video came to my attention through the good people at Kitchen Gardeners International, who do great work to encourage home food production.

In my memory, 2007 will always be the year that "local" caught fire. Everywhere I turn, people are talking about food miles and local alternatives. It is absolutely cause for gratitude, and is, for me, one sign that we as a people are waking up. Oh, and have you heard? The publishers of the New Oxford American Dictionary have chosen "locavore" as their much anticipated 2007 Word of the Year. Read all about it here.

Finally, I am grateful to and for all the family farmers, who work hard and take significant financial risks to provide quality food to their communities. My hat goes off to them, every day, for their devotion to the land and all its creatures.

I read a line this morning by the German mystic Meister Eckhart, and it seems as good a way as any to close this essay, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you,” he wrote, “it will be enough.”

Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

Back to the November 2007 Newsletter