It's a dreary Monday morning; my students-first to fourth graders- were sleepy, listless and not very engaged . As part of my teaching commitment, I ask them to record in writing and/or in picture form what they are grateful for. One boy, who is usually alert and lively, claimed that he could not think of anything for which he was grateful, except the game of hockey."That's all I really like." As a Canadian by birth I was quite sympathetic.
"Do you play hockey, "I asked.
"No,my parents won't let me-there's too much checking!"
After a short pause he added,"But I love watching ."
"What would happen if you were blind?"I asked.
He looked up and understood. His gratefulness journal read-"I am grateful for my eyes." He handed his paper to me, a big smile on his face.
According to Jewish tradition, the first words uttered in the morning upon awakening are-"Modeh Ani"- I thank You. The starting point of this utterance of gratitude is oneself-"Ani"-"I." So few of us recognize with inner awareness the gift of who and what we are and what we have in the form of body, mind and soul. We seemed to look outside of ourselves, and overlook the miracles of being able to see, hear, feel, think, breath, taste, touch etc. The simple morning prayer attempts to raise this consciousness so that we greet each day ever more grateful and generous.
I read a letter to the editor recently from a prominent rabbi about his distaste and criticism of "spirituality" because he understood meditation and self reflection as acts of narcissism and selfishness. Little did he understand that prayer-meditation, self-reflection-is an indispensable forerunner to our concern for others and our ethical responses on behalf of those in need. "If I am not for myself"-If I cannot recognize my self and the world as a gift for which to be grateful, how then can I "be for others?"
Gratefulness without generosity is selfishness; giving without gratefulness is an important act, but mechanical and devoid of inner intention and spiritual expansiveness that can heighten our ability to relate to the world with greater compassion and generosity.
I hope that the next time this eight-year old is watching a hockey game, he will feel, if only for a moment, a sense of gratitude for his eyes and see them as his greater gift.