Thursday, January 27, 2011

Grateful for Sitting Up

Her eyes were level with mine. No longer did she have to look up, eyes pleading for a moment of well-being, of physical normalcy.The nurses got her off the bed, the first time in many weeks. Now she sat erect on the wheel chair, her skin color no longer an ashen white; now her skin radiated the tinge of some faint color-light tan mixed in with a barely perceptible pink.
A smile returned to her face while her voice articulated words of strength and confidence.
We sat opposite her, her son and brother, and we rejoiced in this one hour of renewal. I quietly recited the morning blessing said during daily Jewish prayer-"Praised are You, God, Sovereign of the Universe, who raises up those who are bent."

Imagine, I thought-the gift of one's ability to sit up in a chair-how precious beyond all price.
Another small step, but in fact a large stride toward eventual recovery and improvement.
Another reason to be grateful.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Gratitude or Guilt: A Challenging Choice

I was on the treadmill, doing my daily 50 minute jogging exercise. I was in a large Canadian city, Toronto, visiting my sister who was hospitalized and currently bed-ridden. She is unable to walk, even to stand, for fear of collapsing on to the floor, the result of a deterioration of the bone tissue in her spine.
I, by contrast, was speeding along on two sturdy legs. Our age difference is minimal; yet the gap in our physical conditions is virtually unbridgeable. As I jogged, there was no television set to distract me, no music to listen to, no other exerciser to chat with; left to my own devices, I proceeded to "meditate," focusing on my mantra of "modeh" -I thank, in Hebrew. I paid attention to the gift of strong enough legs and body to allow me to put forth this kind of energy on this particular day. I felt badly for my sister, on the verge of entering a state of feeling guilty for my "good" fortune in light of her unfortunate physical disabilities. How can you be happy , I thought, when your sister is in such a state of medical hardship? For a few moments, my energy level began to wane, the result of my guilt's successful intrusion into my exercise experience. My gratefulness meditation was able to help me reorient my thinking to a recognition of gratitude that returned me to a state of continued good feeling and inner desire to complete my exercise routine.
How, I asked myself, would guilt be of any help to my sister? All guilt could accomplish was to interfere with my desire to stay healthy and strong! Why not help my sister from the vantage point of gratitude, one which exhibited health and hope, rather than guilt and hopelessness?
In the final analysis, gratitude acts as an energizing instrument to bring greater optimism and good feeling to those most in need of support and inner strengthening.
I completed my exercise and soon after was at my sister's bedside, feeling fine yet concerned for her well-being, able to be engaged with her in such a way as to brighten her spirits and hopefully make the time spent with her a little less tedious, frightening or sad. Gratitude did in fact translate itself into a response of goodness and care. I was thankful for this gift, as I am sure , was my sister.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Grateful for a Stranger's blessing

She stands alone , against a wall of wood boarding up an empty Manhattan lot . A stretch of midtown Broadway, almost abandoned at 7:00 am on a wintery January morning. Across the way, closely nestled buildings soon to bustle with business, offering trinkets and pocket books, costume jewelry and tee shirts at discounted prices. " Koreaville", dotted with store signs identifying owners in the squarish characters of the Korean language.
I approach the lonely figure, a young woman neatly dressed, huddled against the blistery wind, in back of a suitcase which serves as table or platform, on which rest several tiny stuffed animals and an empty coffee cup.
My mind fills with doubt-should I give her something? A brief debate begins in which arguments are registered for and against giving.
I draw nearer and the cold pierces my heart, forming an opening of spontaneous pity and generosity.
I place a dollar bill into her cup. With joyful surprise she faintly utters:"God bless you!"
I continue walking toward my destination persuaded that I've done the "right" thing.
Echoes of "God bless you" linger in my memory. I feel grateful for her blessing . After all, I have so much to be grateful for. My coffee cup is quite full.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Grateful for Gift-Wrapping

The season of gift giving has just passed. Hannukah has come and gone, and as the celebration of the holiday has become increasingly influenced by the general American environment, the exchange of gifts, especially among children, has become not only widespread but a newly established obligation in so many Jewish families.
X-Mas too is behind us; the gift-giving mania has morphed into another frenzy of visits to the mall but this time to return unwanted gifts. The season to be jolly has stretched into the post X-Mas week with prospects of once in a lifetime bargains preserving the upbeat mood of our celebrations. Observing my surroundings during the past several weeks I could not help but notice how colorful was the human landscape. Nature's majestic hues of autumn have drifted into a drabness of pre-winter months of bare branches and greying skies, anticipating the arrival of winter's caressing blanket of snow, sheets of white to brighten December's dullness. And then the splurge of color that girds gifts with care and generosity of spirit.
To complete a gift, wrappings of color and beauty are indispensable, packages that please the eyes, that pry open spaces of surprise and excitement.
Whether shades of blue and white of Hannukah, or the greens and reds of X-MAs, all suggest a dimension of the colorful in our celebration of significant moments in our lives. Most likely quickly discarded as children hurriedly tear open lovely layers of color to greedily grasp the coveted inside , and adults likewise are prone to overlook the outside trappings in their eagerness to take hold of objects of love and friendship, for me these images of color and esthetically pleasing decoration bring to mind a metaphor for the feeling of gratitude that encircles and houses the many gifts of our everyday lives. Each day we are showered with gifts; when we touch our feelings of gratitude it is as if we have lovingly wrapped our lives in canopies of care and significance.The awareness of what is ours envelops our hearts with wrappings of thankfulness which brushes our ordinary experience with lively colors of inner joy and a deep sense of gratitude for simply being alive.

Grateful for a Shovel

The Northeast is just now digging out from under a blanket of snow, the thickness of which extended to 4-5 feet because of snow- drifts that in some places were driven by 80 miles an hour biting winds(It felt that way each time I stepped out of my apartment in Fort Lee,NJ.)

Early Monday morning, I bravely stepped forward into the snow covered streets of my town and made my way to where I had parked my car the night before. Was I to be one of the few lucky ones , spared the high snow drifts or was I going to find my car enclosed by white walls of untouched snow, rendering the vehicle motionless , trapped.

Like most others, I encountered the latter situation. Unlike others who were individual home owners, living in an apartment house I was seriously under equipped to extricate my car from this snow filled ensnarement. I stood helplessly alongside my car desperate for a shovel. I looked around hoping that a passing “shoveler” who would come by and for a few dollars would free my car from its imprisonment. Minutes passed but the street was deserted. Looking up I spotted an open car door in a nearby driveway.Approaching it, I noticed a figure with its head hidden under the dashboard.

'Excuse me,” I exclaimed. A young man's face suddenly appeared. “Could I borrow a shovel?”I asked. Without hesitation he stepped out of his car and returned a few moments later , handing me what I considered to be a state-of -the art piece of hardware.

Gratefully I took it from him and an hour later, my car was steered out of its spot ,free to ride along the slippery streets of winter.

I returned to the garage to hand back the shovel; no one was around. I knocked on the door.There was no answer. I rested the shovel against the garage wall, disappointed I could not express my gratitude personally. Suddenly the young man appeared and I was able to say a proper thank you.”Don't mention it,” he replied.

As I drove away I felt a deep sense of gratitude to this young man, and felt reassured by the helpfulness of strangers at times of public difficulty. One could argue: Big deal? It was only a shovel! It was returned exactly as it was before being used? Why the big fuss? There was no loss!No sacrifice!

To me it was indeed a big deal. It was clear at that moment how a simple act of kindness, performed almost absent-mindedly, could be regarded as so important to elicit a strong sense of gratitude. Perhaps, I thought, more awareness should be forthcoming of the myriad simple acts of giving and helping that accumulate into realities of goodness for which a clear sense of gratitude is called for. Such an act helped warm my heart on that cold and wintery day in December.