But this Thanksgiving, we choose gratitude
“God, there are days we do not feel grateful. When we are anxious or angry. When we are alone. When we do not understand what is happening in the world, or with our neighbors. We struggle to feel grateful.
But this Thanksgiving, we choose gratitude.”
These opening lines from a prayer written in 2016 by Diana Butler Bass and included in her book, Grateful, have become my mantra during these days of 2020 leading up to Thanksgiving. There are days when we all struggle to feel grateful, especially these days.
Although this prayer has brought me great solace, it wasn’t until I remembered that Sister Barbara Doherty had filled nine volumes of those little blank books with gratitude statements that I realized how I might help myself choose gratitude.
Sister Barbara began this practice on Dec. 8, 1990, while she was president of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. She set out on that day to record 14,000 things she liked.
Her last entry was on an unspecified day in July of 2013. It was during our SP Annual Meeting because she writes, “ALL the SPs for the week talking and thinking.” That was her 12,402 entry.
There is not another entry until June 8, 2020, when Beth Collins, our clinical care coordinator and the person helping Barbara navigate her final days, began to use the gratitude recording as a way to “continue her tradition of remembering the things that make her happy.” So, the last entry, 12,440, reads: “Barbara is so grateful to not be experiencing pain or distress.” Sister Barbara died Aug. 17.
Beth made the last two volumes of Barbara’s collection available to me. From the moment I opened Volume 8 till I closed Volume 9, I was filled with gratitude for her life well lived and for perspective on how gratitude just might be the secret to living well.
Volume 8 opens with entries from the canonization of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin in Rome in 2006. Here is the first: “that our choir was excellent at the Vatican. We were asked to sing a second song—good microphones.”
I was in that choir!
I was immediately flooded with those good memories of being in St. Peter’s Square. I remembered the wonder of the whole experience. We did feel proud to be asked to sing a second song during the liturgy. That song began with a solo part, sung by Beth Burch Williby, an SMWC Madrigal. And after it was over, Beth was embraced by her mom, also in the choir, and the two cried and cried with joy. I’m still moved when I think about it and grateful to have been a part of it.
Not all of Barbara’s gratitude statements record such momentous occasions. She tells of buying a new pair of blue shoes and eating pumpkin ravioli with as much delight as she chronicles the birth of her grand nieces and nephews born during this time. She expresses the beauty of listening to an opera in the same week she applauds two sisters as good drivers. She mentions her good friends over and over and over again. And she gives thanks for her family over and over and over again.
One of my favorite entries was made Wednesday, Nov. 9 (2011). It said simply, “An ordinary day.”
I have such friends and family. I don’t pay enough attention to the good food I am able and privileged to eat, but I probably will now! And the next time I have an ordinary day, I am going to make note of it, and give thanks for it because we all need those kinds of days every now and then.
After my foray into Barbara’s gratitude practice, I make no promises to start filling blank books with the 14,000 things I like. But I am determined to choose gratitude as my resolution and prayer this Thanksgiving.
So, let me offer the closing of Diana Butler Bass’s Thanksgiving prayer to strengthen my own resolve. I invite you to do the same!
“God, this Thanksgiving, we do not give thanks. We choose it. And we will make thanks, with strong hands and courageous hearts. … In this choosing, and in the making, we will pass gratitude onto the world. … And we ask you to strengthen us in this resolve. Here, now and into the future. Around this table. Around the table of our nation. Around the table of the earth. AMEN.
P.S. Use the comments section of this blog to honor Barbara’s practice by listing some of the things for which you are grateful!