Last night my sisters and I were sitting around the kitchen table sharing a celebratory dinner and conversation. Inevitably, the discussion turned to the effects of hurricane Sandy.
On the edges of our daily living there is a communal sadness as we hold deep in our hearts those whose lives after the storm will never be the same: the mother whose two small children were swept out of her arms, to their deaths, by the storm surge; a teacher who fights for life in the ICU, unaware that her husband and child drowned and were found dead on the lawn in their community.
These conversations are our way of grieving with those we know who have lost so much. They’ve lost memories, communities and loved ones to hurricane Sandy. While New Yorkers are resilient and determined, in our hearts, we cannot escape the effects of tragedy and devastation.
Nor do we want to.
While the news has moved on to other stories, Sandy’s story continues through the compassion of those near and far who continue to support and help the victims of the hurricane. At the high school where I teach (which was spared any damage), students decided to forego a planned celebration and instead send the money to a sister school in Staten Island that was devastated in the storm.
Other schools and universities in the area are pitching in through similar efforts or with labor for rebuilding. One of my own sisters ministers in a local hospital as a physician assistant and worked countless hours through the storm and continues to do so for misplaced and evacuated victims and patients of the city. Her story and our story are one of many efforts of generosity, caring, and concern for neighbors, friends and strangers which reveal a loving and active God mending brokenness and offering hope amidst tragedy.
In this Advent season we continue to grieve and search out ways to be hope for one another, to give to others so they can begin rebuilding, and to be thankful that we have each other and our God to see us through.
This week’s guest blogger, Jayne Pickett, is originally from Wisconsin, but has spent several years teaching high school in New York City. She is currently teaching in White Plains, N.Y., and is a candidate with the Presentation Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
There are too many thank you’s that I never write.
I am frequently overwhelmed with the abundance of love, blessings, kindness, gifts, prayers and support that are showered upon me. Inequality drives me nuts, even when it comes to blessings. I don’t want to experience more love and support than any other person, yet I know I do. At times, the reality freezes me in a backwards feeling of worthlessness.
I am not very good at receiving gifts and blessings. I have a flawed response. When people are good to me and when people give me praise, I tend to squirm and divert attention. I want to respond to compliments with compliments for others. I want to explain that all the success and fortune I experience is God’s doing, not mine.
Sometimes the hardest thing to say is “thank you.”
When I finally do try to say thank you, I feel so inadequate. I want to write litanies and I want to construct complicated cards. I want to call sisters, colleagues, friends and family and tell them personally how their kindness has not been unnoticed. I want to jot a note for every little thing that everyone does for me: hold a door, run an errand, give a donation, or send me an encouraging letter. I never feel like I have the time nor energy to try to express all the gratitude I am feeling. When I can’t stand that “write thank you to so and so” has been on my to-do list for longer than two months and I finally sit down to make an effort, I often feel like what I come up with is way too overdue and inappropriate. Then, when my thank you’s turn into apologies, I become stunned by the response I hear.
“I know you appreciate it. You don’t have to say so. You are a very grateful person.”
I wonder if my character has stuck me into a cycle. Maybe I receive a lot of blessings because it’s rewarding to give to people who are grateful. Then, I struggle with receiving because I don’t know how to respond. My list of unwritten thank you’s takes on a life of its own. In the end, my gratitude becomes a relational thing and tokens of appreciation are replaced with simple statements. “Hey, thanks for doing that.” “Thank you so much, that was so nice.” “Thank you.” Really, it’s much more personal. Then, I am understood as “a person who is all about gratitude” because people hear me saying thank you all the time. Therefore, more blessings are sent my way because everyone needs to hear “thank you.”
This is a human cycle. Gratitude is a life cycle, and earth cycle.
I am learning: the gratitude cycle need not be complicated, because, really, thank you’s are essential. Thank you’s are like breathing.
“Within this human impulse to gratitude flow the vast cycles of universal reciprocity for everything that is taken, something has to be given in return. If you merely take in a breath and stop there you will die. Likewise if you merely breathe out. Life is not giving or taking, but give and take. This is the dynamic expression of universal belonging expressed in our thanksgiving... Perhaps the greatest gift we humans can offer to the rest of creation is our heartfelt appreciation… Our praise and thanksgiving is as essential a part of life’s give and take as are the cycles of oxygen and water or any other nourishment flowing through the biosphere.” (From Earth Prayers, page 211-213)
I am glad to know that thank you need not be a big deal, because our interdependence is very basic and natural. In fact, I am thankful I am learning this lesson!
Thank you to each of you for how you all help me be the interdependent part of creation I am made to be. Amen!