Thursday, November 28, 2013

Three Magic Words

If you have children, or if you have ever been a kid, which should cover just about all of us, then you probably know the ‘the magic words’ and they are not hocus-pocus or abracadabra or supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!  What are they?  PLEASE and THANK YOU.  That’s right. 

I can remember hammering in those three magic words into my children especially when they were bugging me for something, which seemed to be most of the time.  “Can I have a snack?” “What do you say?  What are the magic words?” and they would dutifully, tinged with an edge of sarcasm, say, “Please and thank you”.  Then I would have to say, “Say it like you mean it please!”  Then they would repeat the magic words again with a bit more sincerity, as I would usually hand over whatever it was that they were asking for.

Please and thank you.  Three enchanting words that unlock all of Ms. Manner’s etiquette in one breath.  I’ve decided that the only words you really need when you travel to another country that doesn’t speak the English language is, please and thank you.  And maybe ‘where’s the WC’.  Because with please and thank you you can make your way through whatever country you are in with kindness, civility and even a portion of gratitude and love because at that very moment in time you are dependent upon a stranger to get you what you need and to get you where you need to be. 

Please and thank you.  What’s so magic about these words anyway?  How does saying please and thank you unlock a mother’s heart or a stranger’s empathic response?  You have to admit that when you do something for someone and you don’t even get a gratuitous ‘thank you’, you are miffed.  Right?  I extended myself for you and you can’t even say thanks?  Admit it, it’s always nice to hear thank you.

And so we will sit around a table this Thanksgiving Day and say please and thank you.  Because it’s a day for the gobbler, goodies and grace, your prayers of thanks steeped in your family tradition and your faith tradition.  We will gather together to ask the Divine for blessings and give great thanks for the blessings that we have already received.  It will be warm, it will be satisfying, and we might feel as if we are the most blessed people on this planet without a care in this world.
The Thanksgiving Table by Norman Rockwell
Yet we know that’s not entirely the truth.  The Thanksgiving table is not only a place with fancy decorations and flowers, succulent turkey, stuffing, pie and enumerating all of the good things about your life.  The Thanksgiving table is also the place you will bring the not so good aspects of your life, your worries and concerns, and your fears, you know how they follow you everywhere like catalogs arriving in the mail every fifteen minutes.

The Thanksgiving table is a place where you can recognize those worries and perhaps even give voice to them.  The table is scared and holy ground where our common bonds of humanity, that is suffering and pain, joy and contentment for one brief hour is perfectly aligned and we can give thanks.

Thank you God.  Thanks God for picking me up in that ally way last week, what was I thinking?  Thank you God for having my back, I couldn’t have done it without you.  Thank you God that my child didn’t get any sicker, thank you God that during the last storm I wasn’t hurt and I still have my house to live in. Thank you God.  Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

In one of author Anne Lamott’s books, “Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers”, thank you, thank you, thank you is one of her prayers and in her inimitable way she shortens it to just ‘thanks’.  She knows that a thank you is good but a life of gratitude is even better so she takes thanks to a deeper level of understanding when she says, “‘You breathe in gratitude, and you breathe it out, too’.  She says…. ‘My general-purpose go-to mystic Rumi once said, “There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”’[i] 

In other words, there are more ways then just these magic words to express our profound gratitude to God.  Giving ‘thanks’ is good for a day but then to live into the gratitude expressed around our tables on Thanksgiving Day is how this day can transform our living.  

We can express our gratitude to God for all those pick me ups, all of those close calls, all of those reprieves from potentially bad situations, we can express our gratitude in so many more ways than solely around the proverbial Thanksgiving table once a year.  There really is more than one way to kiss the ground and there is more than one way to say thanks.  My friends, no words are even needed.

When we breathe in gratitude and when we breathe out our gratitude there is no other alternative than to put that gratitude into action.  Thank you God, now what can I do to help you out?  What can I do to help other people?  Heaven knows, the world does not lack for opportunities for us to convey our gratitude and thanks way beyond Thanksgiving Day through our action because there is hurt in this world and people, maybe even your neighbors, who are in need of something. 

That’s the real gift of Thanksgiving.  After we wake up from our tryptophan induced naps and rub our sleepy eyes we can see all of the possibilities there are to put our gratitude into action.  There is a world out there that is in need of us…of you, and of me however we can contribute. Thanksgiving opens our eyes to the blessings we have and the incredible blessing that we can be to others.  That is the treasure of Thanksgiving. 

So let us resolve today to exhale our profound gratitude in this world through our actions.

Pass the stuffing please, and thank you God for letting the grain grow abundant and for the blessings of harvest to be plentiful.  Now let me work for just and equitable wages and sustainable living for all.

Pass the gravy please, and thank you God for giving us gravy and food at this table that is surrounded family and friends.  Now let me be a part of the solution to end homelessness and starvation so that others can enjoy the most basic of human needs.

Pass the cranberry sauce please, and thank you God for intervening in my life, for hearing my cries, for accepting my sorrows, for healing my aches, for forgiving my sins, for making me a better person, for opening my eyes to the world around me.  Thank you God, just thank you.  

Three magic words.  A life of gratitude.

And let all of the people say, Amen!

[i] Anne Lamott, ‘Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers’. Penguin Books, 2012.

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