Category: Gratitude

Two fears

I have two great fears. One is that I may succumb to a creeping sense of entitlement, that I deserve the freedoms I enjoy, that I’m entitled to fast service even when stores are short on staff. The other fear is that I may succumb to a dullness, or–even worse–an absence of gratitude.

I try to read several free sources via email each day to cultivate gratitude and to avoid entitlement. These sources keep me on my toes. Every day at least one of these sources speaks to my heart and mind. On Monday, all of them did. That’s always a home run. I’m passing Monday’s gems on to you.

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation “A Universal Connection” was one of his best. He puts the Big Picture into sharp focus in ways that inspire, illuminate and challenge.

Heather Cox Richardson’s October 2 installment of “Letters from an American” (emailed on October 3) put the daily mix of sublime and ridiculous news into a historical context that I can understand.

Robert B. Hubbell’s Today’s Edition Newsletter for October 3 was “Citizenship is an act.” He parses the legal and political issues with precision, clarity and a “can do” spirit of hope. He inspires me.

Joyce Vance, the latest addition to my daily inbox, writes Civil Discourse. Her October 3 communique’ was “The Week Ahead,” a synopsis of the critical legal issues in the news this week. She always ends her blog with, “We’re in this together.” And so we are!

We stayed, with gratitude, at three Harvest Host locations on this trip. One was Mohican Farms in New Jersey. That night, two camper guests stayed at the hillside edge of their cornfield with a beautiful view of the New Jersey countryside. We were in Big Al, the red and white camper on the left.

They probably never even knew it

I saw my four college years at a state school as a gift–from parents, taxpayers and donors. Three years of seminary were made possible by donors, including a scholarship. Congregations I served during those years provided income. At my church-affiliated graduate school, tuition for the new quarter was posted at the student center for the Schools of Dentistry, Law, Medicine and Theology. The theology tuition was considerably less, which someone noted by writing on the announcement, “Jesus saves.”

Kyle Whitmire’s AL.com opinion piece (cited below) was for me further evidence that love is the energy of the universe, often expressed through our collective generosity (or willingness to pay taxes). From a faith perspective, it’s all grace. Our son, who sent me Whitmire’s article, has struggled with a disability for over a decade. He calls beneficence unmerited favor. By whatever name, it’s a gift to be graciously received and “paid forward” so others can enjoy the fruits of generosity.

Whitmire cited comments by some in Alabama’s Congressional delegation who criticized President Biden’s student loan action. Whitmire said in 1980, Alabama student tuition covered 27% of the cost of higher education. Today’s students pay over two-thirds of the cost. Tuition has risen 485%. State appropriations have risen 8%. Whitmire wrote: “Back then, you didn’t have to hope for a bailout on the backend. These guys got their subsidized schooling upfront, and they probably never even knew it.

From “The hidden subsidy behind those old ‘bootstrap’ students,” by Kyle Whitmire, AL.com, August 26, 2022

Sentient beings

My engineer/scientist friend Ernie knows his way around the cosmos. He has helped numerous people grasp its history. Correction–make that our history. I objectified the universe, referring to our home as “it,” like a static thing in a museum, rather than our dynamic, evolving home. The James Webb telescope is sending us images of solar systems that are no longer existent. Lots can happen in a few billion years.

A few months ago I listened via Zoom to Ernie’s presentation about where earth fits into the history of the universe, and where humanity fits into the history of earth. My mind and my emotions were stirred when Ernie mentioned the unimaginable privilege we have to exist as sentient beings in the vast scope of the space and time represented by the universe.

Genesis 1 is a “great liturgical poem” about creation. Reflections about sentient beings are prominent in Buddhist thought. Sentience is a topic addressed by various doctors of philosophy. As I scratched the surface of this theme, I kept returning to two words, privilege and gratitude. As sentient beings, we have great opportunity to make a difference in this fleeting moment in our corner of space.

From “Creation,” Will Vinton Studio (1981), based on James Weldon Johnson’s 1922 poem “The Creation,” narrated by James Earl Jones, illustrated by Joan C. Gratz, a 7 1/2 minute video on YouTube

Stories

“From whence cometh my help” is a memory exercise. As the Webb telescope probes deeper into space, it reveals more of the Universe’s history. When I probe into my past, I find stories. The earliest ones were read to me from story books. When I was old enough to ask questions, grandparents and older neighbors answered with stories. The Bible, the Quran and other sacred writings contain records of who did what to whom, lists of rules, and (best of all) poems, songs and stories.

Some stories are more helpful than others. I invite you to ask yourself, “Which stories are helpful to me?” Which are your foundational stories? Mine include stories of leadership about people like Jethro and Moses. Some are familial, like my uncle describing his service in two world wars. Some are my stories, like listening to JFK’s inaugural address, or his Cuban missile crisis speech, or the Zapruder film of the presidential motorcade passing through Dealey Plaza.

Both sets of my grandparents had porch swings. My memory bank is full of stories heard while swinging, standing, or sitting on those porches. Some were stories of self-deprecating humor or good-natured poking at others. Laughter is therapeutic. The best stories are love stories. They help us find identity, a sense of belonging and gratitude for the gift of life. Good stories help us feel loved. They motivate us to love our fellow creatures. Which stories in your memory bank have helped you?

My Uncle Odie once said, “I’m the luckiest man alive. I was in two world wars and never hurt a soul. As an Army medic in his 40s, he survived the Bataan death march. This story about his contemporaries, 77 military nurses, gives a flavor of that difficult time. From “Nurse POWs: Angels of Bataan and Corregidor,” The National World War II Museum, May 5, 2021

Healers

This morning, respectful gratitude for healers. A compassionate nurse called Monday night to say Aunt Margaret was hospitalized after a fall, likely fracturing a hip bone. A jovial orthopedic surgeon called Tuesday while I traveled to confirm the break and recommend a hip replacement. Overworked nurses were patient with their patient’s inability to remember and with her sundown syndrome.

Several healers were volunteers who staffed waiting rooms, reception areas and a library. A friendly motel clerk provided a 15% discount when I replied to “What brings you to the Secret City?” Social workers, food service staff, hospital security, and a gentle anesthesiologist transformed what could have seemed like a fleeting, mindless, rote process into an experience of genuine, personalized care.

When she was fidgety, I said, “I think Aunt Margaret needs some of Aunt Bee’s elixer.” Her nurse gave her towels and sheets to fold, calming her as they discussed various folding techniques. Less than 48 hours after surgery, she was transported to rehab. When her movement alarm was activated, the staff found her walking around on her own, earning her a seat in the hall across from the nurses’ station.

From “Clara Barton,” edited by Debra Michals, Women’s History Museum

Section 27

We’re never far from the Civil War, woven into our conscious and unconscious. Arlington Estate was owned by Mary Custis Lee, descendent of Martha Washington and spouse of Robert E. Lee. The estate was seized by the US Army in 1861. Its grounds included Freedman’s Village, for freed and escaped slaves. In 1864, part of the estate became Arlington National Cemetery. Black soldiers were buried in Section 27. Arlington remained segregated by rank and race until 1948.

Of 3,525 Medals of Honor, 3,000 were pre-World War I, with 473 World War II honorees. Since 1916, the Medal has become more rare, yet more fair. Since the end of World War II, over two dozen Medals have been awarded to men who were denied the Medal during the war due to their race, ethnicity, or religion. In 1997, President Bill Clinton presented the Medal to seven African Americans (who fought in WW2). Three years later, President Clinton presented 22 Japanese American veterans with the Medal of Honor.

Of the seven blacks honored In 1997, Vernon Baker was the only one still alive. The Korean War brought 146 recipients, including the last two African Americans to receive the Medal for service in a segregated unit: Cornelius Charlton and William Henry Thompson. The 250 Vietnam War recipients include 22 African Americans. James Anderson, Jr., was the first black Marine recipient. A month after his 20th birthday, Anderson covered an enemy grenade with his body just before it exploded.

These stories–going back to the Revolutionary War–amplify the absurd fear of “replacement.” The question is whether we who are late to the party (the real “replacements”) will sing in gratitude:

Oh beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife
Who more than self, their country loved
And mercy more than life
.

Section 27, from the Arlington National Cemetery

Imperfect unions

I’ve been thinking about the Preamble to the US Constitution, which begins, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union….” The process of perfecting is never-ending.

As I drove home yesterday from an overnight men’s retreat, I was thinking about the process of being made perfect. The men at the retreat reflected on wholeness in the midst of imperfections.

After a few minutes of Radio Margaritaville to decompress, I listened to a May 3 interview with Alan Alda, 86, on Bullseye with Jesse Thorn. His earliest memories are traveling with his parents to burlesque theaters. His father, Robert Alda (1914-1986) was a singer, dancer and actor. His mother, Joan Browne (1906-1990), suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.

As Alda shared memories of his mother, I thought about Mothers Day, my late mom, and our retreat conversations about grace, healing and wholeness in the midst of imperfections and imperfect unions.

From NPR’s Bullseye with Jesse Thorn, May 3, 2022

An immigrant’s gift

Ten years ago, Amjad Masad entered the US as a 24-year-old immigrant from Jordan. Peggy Noonan provides background, including the story that his father, a Palestinian immigrant to Jordan, gave 6-year-old Amjad a computer. Thus began Masad’s dream to live in Silicon Valley. Five years ago he became co-founder and CEO of Replit, a company that helps people learn programming.

Last month, Masad posted on Twitter “10 things I love about this country.” I’ve been depressed about much that’s happening in our country, and as I read Masad’s “10 things,” I found myself thinking, “Yes, but….” Then I decided to simply enjoy his wonderment, enthusiasm and gratitude. I’m energized to make it a better place by living into (and up to) our yet-to-be-actualized ideals.

You can read Masad’s background via the Noonan link. You can access Masad’s tweet (actually 12 tweets) from the “10 things” link. Here’s a short version of his list: (1) work ethic; (2) lack of corruption; (3) win-win mindset; (4) rewarding talent; (5) open to weirdos; (6) forgiveness; (7) basic infrastructure; (8) optimism; (9) freedom; (10) access to capital. He concluded his tweets with:

… my experience can be very different from yours. Also, we can do a lot better, and make sure everyone has equal access to opportunity. Finally, many of the things that I talked about are under threat, largely from people who don’t know how special they have it. America is worth protecting, and realizing that progress can be made without destroying the things that made it special.

From Amjad Masad’s series of Twitter posts, linked above

Memorial Day

Looking at Memorial Day through the defining presence of the Jesus model, I’m struck immediately by the theme of personal sacrifice for the common good and by the historic diversity of the nation’s military. Today we honor the memory of those who died in our service, giving themselves for those of us who may differ in faith, ethnicity, culture or region. Military units were once identified by state or region, but over time we have become more amalgamated and inclusive.

I see that diversity when I visit a national cemetery. The Jesus model is to give a gift not because we the recipients deserve it. Hopefully, the depth of the gift (i.e., veterans who died in action) will inspire us with gratitude and devotion to the cause of freedom and equal justice under the law.

My cousin Ed, a trained navigator, career USAF pilot and Vietnam veteran, now retired, sent me this email and the photo below:

To some, Memorial Day is just another three day weekend.

To others, it is of profound significance.

One member of my 39 strong navigator class was killed in combat.

Three of my 50 member pilot training class died in the cockpit, too. The one killed in combat was my formation flying partner. The young son he never saw grew up to be a Navy fighter pilot and is now USN retired.

I remember them all laughing when they were age 25, over 50 years ago.

Veterans do not forget.

Jenn Budenz lies on a blanket with her 2-month-old son AJ as they visit the grave of her husband and father of her child Major Andrew Budenz, a Marine buried at the Miramar National Cemetery in San Diego. Budenz was killed in a motorcycle accident. Hayne Palmour IV / San Diego Union-Tribune (May 23, 2014)

Honor Roll

On this day, in this year, let’s give thanks for the people who are helping us through a global pandemic, such as the custodians, orderlies, EMTs, volunteers, and other medical staff who work behind the scenes, as well as nurses, aides, technicians, therapists, physicians, and their families.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in and around a senior facility where my aunt resides. Additional paperwork and safety protocols have added to the staff’s workload as they operate with increased regulations and scrutiny. I’m grateful for hospice and home health care professionals.

In normal times, teaching is another difficult job that’s not always appreciated. COVID-19 has added another level of hazard to this duty and to the roles of other education staff, such as bus drivers and custodial, kitchen, and office personnel.

It’s been a tough year for all kinds of front line employees and business owners who’ve struggled to adapt to new distance and sanitation regimens.

We’re indebted to civil servants, non-profit staffs and volunteers, law enforcement personnel, firefighters and those who serve in the military for working under increased stress and with greater personal risk.

Families, neighbors and sometimes strangers have stepped into the breach to help children and their parents, as well as elderly family members and those with special needs.

There’s much about 2020 that we would gladly erase from our memories, but let’s always remember these and countless others on our Honor Roll.

Coronavirus cartoons: Honoring healthcare workers, the heroes amid the pandemic,” by Dylan Bouscher, The Mercury News, April 1, 2020 (cartoon by Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal Constitution)