On gratitude

pumpkin pie SQGod gave us our relatives. Thank God we can choose our friends. End of column!

When we speak of thanks, quite often this is the extent of what some people can muster up. I believe that one of the greatest human expressions we overlook in our lives is that of giving thanks. Not a day goes by when we are not given endless opportunities to say thank you to a loved one or a perfect stranger. Thank you for holding the door. Thank you for making that meal. Thank you for listening to me.

Thank you is a simple but deceptively powerful expression which has a ripple effect in our lives. Melody Beattie, author of the best-selling self-help book, “Codependent No More,” says, “Gratitude, or thanks, unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, and confusion into clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, and a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”


Think how different the world we live in would be, if we all recognized the impact of a simple thank you. Unfortunately we don’t, and that’s why I believe that thanks, or gratitude, is the most underrated of human expressions.

I once shared this story at my church. Each year at Thanksgiving, I have cooked the turkey in our house and I have a great recipe. Take the turkey, put it in a brown paper bag lined with mayonnaise and seal it. Place the turkey in a basting pan and put it in a cold oven. Cook it for one hour at “x” degrees, one hour at “y” degrees, one hour at “z” degrees, and voila, the turkey is done. You end up with an incredibly tender and flavorful bird. It never fails.

The recipe calls for a 14- to 23-pound turkey. Well, a number of years ago we had a gathering of our close friends. I bought a 32-pound turkey and ran into a problem. The turkey wouldn’t fit into a brown shopping bag. So I picked up one of those three-foot paper bags that bakery rolls are delivered in. I cut the bag down and my problem was solved.

Somewhere in the midst of cooking, my wife said, “I think I smell something burning.” I looked at the window of the oven and saw a huge ball of flames. Quickly, I put the fire out. What I hadn’t counted on was the much heavier weight of paper in the bakery bag. Needless to say, my wife was quite shaken.

We opened all the windows in the house to let the smoke out. People started arriving; the house freezing cold and neither one of us knowing how to salvage a turkey dinner, much less any meal for our guests. Word of the mishap spread like wildfire, one person to the next. You could have cut the tension with a knife.

I finished cooking the turkey under foil and, after much delay, we sat down for dinner. As we ate, one of the guests who had arrived late and was unaware of what had happened, said, “Thank you so much! Wow, this turkey is absolutely delicious. It has a wonderful smoked flavor to it.” Well, that was it! The entire table erupted in laughter and we all had one of the most joyful and beautiful evenings together. That dinner lives on in infamy as the Turkey Flambé Thanksgiving. I mention this experience, though, because it was a simple thank you that turned despair into joy, chaos into order, and a meal into a feast.

A simple thank you has the power to change lives and it costs absolutely nothing. The question is: Can we be thankful at all times? It’s not always easy for us to receive things with gratitude. It can be challenging when we are given advice on how to live our life, or given a sneer from a passerby on the street, or faced with being thankful when someone is making our life difficult.

At times like these, and other times as well, we need to remember that all creation is to be received with thanksgiving. We need to receive these gifts with thanksgiving and focus on how we can make positive use of them. In this way, we are able to see things through the eyes of others. We follow the path of self-control, maintaining consideration of others and recognizing the personal and social consequences of what we do.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “When I first open my eyes upon the morning meadows and look out upon the beautiful world, I thank God I am alive.” Now we don’t always wake up to a beautiful morning meadow. Often, we awake struggling to survive the circumstances or conditions of our lives. But I believe that Emerson had it right when he said, “I thank God I am alive.”

Gratitude begins when we awake in the morning. Each and every day is a new gift. Which side of the bed are we going to wake up on? The choice we make when we first arise is likely to set the tone for our entire day. It’s up to each of us. And when we choose thanks, we create an opportunity to lift someone else up out of their own troubles. The choice we make each day can actually be a double blessing. We will have those days, though, when gratitude seems the furthest thought from us. We are all human.

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving next week, we can look to the example that was set for us nearly 400 years ago. What better example than that of the first settlers of this country. It’s been said that the pilgrims made seven times as many graves as they did huts to live in. No Americans since have been more impoverished or faced more serious struggles. Yet they were thankful.

William Arthur Ward once noted that “feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” We all have so much to be thankful for. Let us start by counting our blessings and then giving thanks where thanks are due. If we learn to express gratitude generously and sincerely, receive it humbly and graciously, and expect it rarely, our lives will be blessed in more ways than we can count. Happy Thanksgiving.  

Rev. Terry O’Brien is pastor of the Saugerties Reformed Church