Gratitude

A while ago, I got to watch 58, a film documenting poverty and the lives of those who live it, in various kinds and countries around the world. Each story is intensely shocking and saddening, and contrary to what Hollywood calls for, not each story ends in smiles and sunshine.

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The first story the viewer is invited into is that of Workitu, a mother of 4, with one more on the way. She lives in rural Ethiopia, in an area where “people die before reaching their potential”. Under scorching sun and over tough terrain, she and her children walk mile upon mile to fetch sticks which they try to sell to keep food in their mouths. The local “economy” is a death-trap, a vicious cycle: natural resources which could be cultivated, sold and profited from in time are being used up because “now” is so desperate.

Workitu’s husband caved has left the family. Workitu is, at the time the 58 crew film her story, 7 months pregnant and under tremendous pressure financially, physically and emotionally. We later find out she loses the baby.

A question posed to several of the documentary’s heroes is this: What would you do if Jesus were here now? I told you a couple of months ago about the answer given by a 12 year old boy, who asked to not have any more dreams.

Workitu’s answer? “If Jesus were here right now, I would ask for good health. The next thing I’d do: I think I would fall at his feet, thanking Him.”

After everything she has walked through, she expresses gratitude. She wants to thank him.

This woman isn’t naive. She has been through fire and knows there is more to come. And she wants to thank him.

This story, this answer to that question, moved me, challenged me. Little has affected me more profoundly.

I wish I could say that overnight I became less of a spoiled brat and a perfectly grateful human being. I’m still in a work in progress, unfortunately. In considering the characters and traits of the people I most admire, both closely and from afar, thankfulness is a common quality found in the giants of my hall of fame. A beautiful spirit seems to be one that actively seeks and commits to and entertains gratitude.

In thinking then about what gratitude means, some believe it is the sentiment expressed by one who is conscious of their reality in light of another reality that might have been theirs (which is always less desirable to the person).

Sometimes, I go along with this. Thankful that I am safe when I know others are not. Thankful for my family when I know they could quickly be taken away. Thankful that I get to take pictures of flowers when others risk their lives for a shot of a shot. Or even little things, like thankfulness for being able to write this in the sun today, when it rained all day yesterday.

I’m usually happy enough to to with that. But recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that this particular definition isn’t quite good enough. You see, by thankfulness for something necessitating something else to be contrasted with, it takes away from its own purity. Needing to know what isn’t as good as what we have to know that we have is good dilutes thankfulness. The purity of gratitude for something just because it is good is what I want. The unadulterated sense of thankfulness because I am glad and appreciate what has been given to me – because it is good, because it is mine…because the Giver has given it to me.

Maybe it’s a blind theory: maybe we need to know what we don’t have in out path to by thankful for what we do. Something about that makes me a little disappointed in the strong, gold beauty of thankfulness, though. It makes me feel like I forget a little the sheer goodness and generosity of the Giver’s hand. But then maybe we only appreciate light when we know what darkness is.

Either way, I’m committed to commit to gratitude. I want it around in my life. I want to be a grateful person.

What about you? How do you define gratitude? What are you most grateful for? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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One response to “Gratitude

  1. This is not the dictionary’s definition of ‘gratitude’ but the feeling the word invokes when I hear it – I know, you can’t define a word by how it sounds and this very likely means what I’m about to write might not answer your question at all and possibly not be fully helpful but anyways, here goes: the broad meaning of the word as I understand it and the the way it sounds, also when I saw Gemma tweet this question yesterday, is one of ‘desperate thankfulness’. Not a casual thankfulness, as in appreciating the gesture of the person giving you something almost more than the gift itself but one of being lost/hopeless without that gift, as alternative. If you made me a sandwich, I would think “wow that’s really nice of you” and enjoy the sandwich but I would’ve been able to make it myself as well and still enjoy it. But have you brought me something I was desperate for but couldn’t produce myself I would have ‘gratitude’. Firstly because I can now continue practically living with a real hope inside of me and secondly because for some reason (which I perhaps can’t fully comprehend) you, in your better-off state, found it worthwhile to attend to my need which makes me believe I have value and thus feel valued and therefore am overcome by an intense feeling of ‘gratitude’ (some sort of desperate joy) every time I consider again this gift and its giver and my inability to absorb it all. that might not be what ‘gratitude’ means but that’s what it sounds like to me, especially when someone pronounces the ‘r’ with a strong Afrikaans accent. 🙂

    So, considering that, I will have to say salvation (through, in, by Jesus) is what I’m most strongly filled with ‘gratitude’ about. When I really consider it: the gift, the giver, my lack of contribution in the whole deal, I experience that desperate joy. A next commenter, please help me here…

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