“Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers” by Anne Lamott, chapter 2: Thanks
The second chapter in Anne Lamott’s book is about saying, “Thanks”. She talks about being thankful as a rush of relief that I dodged a bullet… my child didn’t drown… said with a heaving exhalation of breath, the expulsion of bellows- THANK you, whoooooosh (44). “Thanks” can be the recognition that you have been blessed mildly, or with a feeling as intense as despair at the miracle of having been spared. You say thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou: My wife is going to live. We get to stay in this house. They found my son: he’s in jail, but he’s alive; we know where he is and he’s safe for the night. Things could have gone either way, but they came down on our side. It could have been much, much worse, and it wasn’t (47).
On Sunday, December 23rd, we were driving from my parents’ house to a friends’ house while listening to the Cleveland Browns play the Denver Broncos on the radio. With the Broncos leading 14-3 at the end of the second quarter and a Cleveland defensive stop, the radio announcer said what a lot of Cleveland radio announcers have said over the years, “That could have been worse.” As a life-long Cleveland sports fan, I know these words too well. To be a Cleveland sports fan, you are mostly thankful that it wasn’t worse than it actually was.
We can be thankful for anything. “Through the most ordinary things, books, for instance, or a postcard, or eyes or hands, life is transformed (47). For us to acknowledge that we have been set free from toxic dependency, from crippling obsession or guilt, that we have been graced with the ability finally to forgive someone, is just plain astonishing… To have been so lost that you felt abducted, to feeling found, returned, and set back onto your feet: Oh my God, thankyouthankyouthankyou. Thank you. Thanks (48). Thank you for lifting this corner of the curtain so I can see the truth, maybe for just a moment, but in a way that might change my life forever. And that moment is astonishing, because everything is taking place all at once, the micro and the macro (49).
Two poems come to mind which remind me of thankfulness for ordinary life:
The Life of a Day by Tom Hennen
Like people or dogs, each day is unique and has its own personality quirks which can easily be seen if you look closely. But there are so few days as compared to people, not to mention dogs, that it would be surprising if a day were not a hundred times more interesting than most people. But usually they just pass, mostly unnoticed, unless they are wildly nice, like autumn ones full of red maple trees and hazy sunlight, or if they are grimly awful ones in a winter blizzard that kills a lost traveler and bunches of cattle. For some reason we like to see days pass, even though most of us claim we don’t want to reach our last one for a long time. We examine each day before us with barely a glance and say, no, this isn’t one I’ve been looking for, and wait in a bored sort of way for the next, when, we are convinced, our lives will start for real. Meanwhile, this day is going by perfectly well adjusted, as some days are, with the right amounts of sunlight and shade, and a light breeze scented with a perfume made from the mixture of fallen apples, corn stubble, dry oak leaves, and the faint odor of last night’s meandering skunk.
Welcome Morning by Anne Sexton
There is joy / in all: / in the hair I brush each morning, / in the Cannon towel, newly washed, / that I rub my body with each morning, / in the chapel of eggs I cook / each morning, / in the outcry from the kettle / that heats my coffee / each morning, / in the spoon and the chair / that cry “hello there, Anne” / each morning, / in the godhead of the table / that I set my silver, plate, cup upon / each morning. / All this is God, / right here in my pea-green house / each morning / and I mean, / though often forget, / to give thanks, / to faint down by the kitchen table / in a prayer of rejoicing / as the holy birds at the kitchen window / peck into their marriage of seeds. / So while I think of it, / let me paint a thank-you on my palm / for this God, this laughter of the morning, / lest it go unspoken. / The Joy that isn’t shared, I’ve heard, / dies young.
Lamott also instructs on how to live a life filled with more gratitude. It’s important because if we are lucky, gratitude becomes a habit (49). Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior. It almost makes you willing to be of service, which is where joy resides. It means you are willing to stop being such a jerk. When you are aware of all that has been given to you, in your lifetime and in the past few days, it is hard not to be humbled, and pleased to give back (57). “Thanks” is a huge mind-shift, from thinking that God wants our happy chatter and a public demonstration and is deeply interested in our opinions of the people we hate, to feeling quiet gratitude, humbly and amazingly, without shame at having been so blessed. You breathe in gratitude, and you breathe it out, too. Once you learn how to do that, then you can bear someone who is unbearable (60). The movement towards gratitude brings us from the package of self-obsessed madness to a spiritual awakening. Gratitude is peace (65).
Looking around, I am grateful for quiet mornings, poetry, the calls of birds, curious people, Blue Herons, calm waters, honey bees, coffee that isn’t bitter, wild flowers, peace-making people, busy insects, dishwashers, harmony in music, sunflower seeds, fresh salsa, NPR, The Weepies, laughter, Frederick Buechner, Ernest Gaines, John Berryman’s “Eleven Addresses to the Lord”, Emily Dickinson, the $140 that we made in a yard sale for school clothes, clean notebooks, well-working pens, the bald eagles that I saw for the first time on New Year’s Eve, a clean house, hot water, a shoveled sidewalk, snowplow trucks, used book stores, coffeeshops, baseball, Panera Bread, frosting, chicken and rice, baseball card collecting (before it got too expensive), old cars, architecture, wood furniture, heated swimming pools, water stations during races, good running shoes, the Liberal Arts, a good story, a redemptive ending, hitting the sweet spot, being in the zone, inspiring leaders, Pandora, Spring Training, Instagram, a completed project, a wild flower garden, MapMyRun, cool race tee-shirts, electric blankets, Coke from a bottle, the Phila Art Museum, the academic calendar, photo albums, Spring Break, and manual labor.
I am grateful for my family and the people that he has put into my life over the years: Hope, Grace, Isaac, Eden and Cana; my parents and sister; my extended family; Norrie, Ron, Kevin, Jack and my great staffs at HU; Bobby, Keith, Evan, Liesl and Troy at my church; the people who invested in me growing up like Jerry, P. Ford, Mr. T, Tim Wolf, Comenzo, Bettie Ann, and Dennis; friends like Josh, James, Tom, Richard, Joey, John, Bruce, Chris, Andy, Nathan, Tim, Gimpy and Gary; and VFCC and Eastern. And, Huntington University, with all of the opportunities that it has given to my family and I. All of these have served in my pit crew and without them my life would be barren and pathetic.