by Susan Hanson
I was in Chicago, moving from one level of the train station to another — or at least trying to. As is so often the case when I travel, I was toting not just a suitcase and an overnight bag, but also a satchel full of heavy notebooks, a camera, and the book bag that doubles as my purse.
Though I’d hoped that the four students I was with would lend a hand, they’d rushed right by, apparently in a hurry to wait for me outside. Add a couple of flights of stairs, a bad case of tennis elbow, and an even worse disposition, and you can begin to get a sense of the situation.
Struggling to stay composed, I began my slow descent, taking a single step at a time. “You need help with that?” asked the man who appeared suddenly on my left. “Yes, thank you,” I responded, wondering if I looked as relieved as I felt. “That would be great.”
My gratitude for what this man did, and for what another stranger would do in a similar situation on my way home, was all the more heart-felt because of my distress. This was a chore I could do, I realized, but the cost to my body — not to mention my frame of mind –would be high. Yes, I needed his help very much.
Both the Old Testament and the New are full of admonitions to give thanks. In the book of Luke, for example, ten lepers come to Jesus to be healed. Though all are “made clean,” only one — a “foreigner” — returns to thank Jesus for what he has done. The implication, of course, is that the others are too self-absorbed, or perhaps too concerned with religious rites of purification, to express any gratitude at all. In this story, thankfulness is clearly the favored response.
But before we can offer thanks, says Brother David Steindl-Rast, we must first be aware of our limits and our needs. “To the degree that you become mindful you recognize that you are not doing so much but that it is all given to you,” he writes in Yes! With Thanks. “That is how you become grateful. You suddenly recognize every moment as a given moment and every situation as a given situation and you realize that we live in what we call a given world.”
It’s easy to imagine that our wealth, health, or general good fortune is a result of how hard we’ve worked. But somewhere along the way, each one of us has been the beneficiary of unearned and un-asked for gifts — including our lives themselves. It is our recognition of this fact that engenders gratitude, a sense of giftedness that stirs our hearts to song.
Susan Hanson is a member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in San Marcos, Texas. She teaches writing and English at Texas State University in San Marcos.