When I read the “Gratitude” essay on Michael Feldman’s Whad’Ya Know? radio show, I had no idea it would trigger such a response. We’re still receiving emails and notes on social media from people wondering where the essay is from, and where it can be found.
I wrote it in 2015 as an end-of-year column for the Wisconsin State Journal. It can also be found in the book Roughneck Grace, which will be out this fall, and can be pre-ordered here.
It’d be nice if you pre-order the book. That’s how I feed my kids. But if I’m going to live up to my own essay, I need to simply share the essay. I hope you’ll do the same.
Here (with thanks to Michael Feldman and crew) is audio of me reading it live on the radio (you can also listen on SoundCloud or YouTube).
And here’s the text:
I cannot anticipate the state of our hearts as we meet in this moment, but I choose for my subject a word I owe more study whatever may transpire after I type it: gratitude.
Gratitude. Such a lovely word. Humble and warm. Humble, because it’s not a word you use if you think you did everything yourself. Humble, because no matter how hard you did work at whatever it is you’re grateful for, you know—and more importantly, acknowledge—there was some luck involved. Warm, because gratitude is not compatible with a cold soul. Warm, because gratitude radiates, like the gentle rays of a heart-sized sun. Gratitude goes softly out and does good works—which generate more gratitude. Gratitude is renewable energy.
Gratitude, because to offer anything less would be to ignore all privilege. The privilege of existence. The privilege of health. The privilege of privilege. And now we are back at humility—or ought to be.
Gratitude, because the world is awash with the sour surf of opposing sentiments.
Gratitude, for those who show us the same.
Gratitude, even in grumpiness. Which is to say I am not talking all hosannas, hugs, and puppies here, I am talking about perspective and preponderance and relativity and a sideways glance into the cosmic mirror, where behind me I spy millions of souls who would give all they own for just one of my disappointing Tuesdays. Gratitude as my moral duty.
Gratitude, because it’s so easy. A note. A word. You don’t even have to talk. Gratitude can be soundless. You can speak it with your eyes. Share it with a smile. Weave it into your works. You can kneel down and offer it up.
Gratitude. A triple-syllabic salutation to the six directions, whichever way you’re pointing. The echoes go on and on. The echoes are gratitude returning. There is the idea among psychologists that gratitude can be cultivated. Put it out there and it comes back to you.
Gratitude as a practice. As an intentional act. Gratitude in the form of reflection. A quiet moment. A look back.
Gratitude, not as obligation but as celebration.
Gratitude, with our loved ones in mind. The ones who suffer our ingratitudes with grace, and that grace yet another reason for gratitude. Grace: cousin and catalyst to gratitude.
Gratitude, because as this year–or this day, or this hour, or this moment–draws to a close I am reminded it was another year granted, not guaranteed, and therefore not taken for granted.
Gratitude, no matter the season.
copyright 2015, 2016, by Michael Perry, from the book Roughneck Grace.