My word for the year is gratitude. I chose it because I spent much of 2017 railing against man and the machine. So much of the news enrages me. So much frightens me. I also have a natural talent for seeing what’s wrong, but struggle sometimes to appreciate what’s working.
So this year, I am practicing gratitude, which may seem like a misguided choice in the face of so much destruction and devastation. But is it?
W.S. Merwin writes in his extraordinary poem “Thanks”:
with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
Merwin’s poem tells me that gratitude isn’t based on things going my way. Gratitude, if it is to have power, must be present whatever is happening. In a poem devoid of punctuation, that rushes breathless onto the page, gratitude becomes a bulwark against cynicism and despair. It is a fierce gratitude, free of sentimentality.
Gratitude is also a way of paying attention. When I hike, I tend to thank things around me as I go. I thank the oak tree for the shade; the red tail hawk for the aerial show; woodpeckers for their drumbeats. I often touch a blade of grass or tree trunk, and murmur, thank you. I feel more connected to my surroundings when I adopt an attitude of gratitude. I feel more connected to myself as well.
Gratitude feels holy, a kind of benediction. The root of benediction is simply to speak well. When I am in a state of gratitude my words and actions bless the world rather than fight with it. I am in a state of awe rather than of anger.
Alice Walker writes, “Thank you is the best prayer that anyone could say.” In adopting “gratitude” as my word for the year, I am seeking to live more prayerfully, more aware of all that I love and am touched by.
Gratitude is saying, I have enough, I don’t need more. Imagine a world where we all practiced feeling grateful for what we have, rather than looking at what we lack.
I don’t know where this year of gratitude will lead me. But maybe, in the words of Mary Oliver, “My work is loving the world.” Maybe it’s just that simple. And, given the times we live in, that difficult as well.