“Gratitude is the memory of the heart” -French proverb
You may be puzzled at the picture that introduces this article; a pile of disorganized and random pictures and boxes on top of my dining room table. This was my early response to “what am I going to do sheltering-in-place for who knows how long?“ Ever a “doer,” I remembered the stacks of shoeboxes filled with photos (9 of them) in my storage closet. I could organize my pictures! Not having easy access to buy photo boxes or albums I settled for sorting in four folders – one for each of my grown children – quickly adding a miscellaneous file for outliers.
But as I began my task one day a funny thing happened. I became so absorbed that I lost all track of time. Hours passed as I was immersed in weddings, first communions, births, vacations, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter and Halloween celebrations. My heart was full. I experienced tears, aching loneliness, and laughter – this wasn’t just nostalgia it was GRATITUDE!
The next day I went for a walk and saw a lone duck on the pond and further on the path a daffodil poking up from the dry brown soil. Earth was waking up! And I was grateful.
In the early days of the pandemic I spent far too many hours watching television news. Almost every broadcast featured series of frenzied hospital personnel desperately trying to cope. But always there were scenes of people holding up handmade signs and clapping their hands to say thank you to honor our new heroes on the front lines of the pandemic. People recognize and respond to acts of moral beauty. This is communal gratitude.
For years as a spiritual director I have encouraged folks to keep a gratitude journal. It has been a popular spiritual practice – so simple but with profound results. It can be as easy as choosing one thing each day you are grateful for and write it down. Over time you discover that gratitude begets more gratitude. This practice is something we can deliberately choose to cultivate.
David Steindal-Rast, monk and author of a notable work: “Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer,” writes: “99% of the time we have an opportunity to be grateful for something. We just don’t notice it. We go through life in a daze. Is it just possible to become a more aware person?”
I am aware that my dining room table is cluttered, but I don’t care. I will not be entertaining guests during this alone time.
Instead of flowers and candles my centerpiece is a vivid reminder of a lifetime of messy memories for which I am grateful.
We are all indeed experiencing an unparalleled time in our lives. We need to tend our souls with healthy spiritual practices. The intentional habit of gratefulness can change the way we experience these times.