(Originally published in the Wisconsin State Journal, then as closing essay of Roughneck Grace, available here.)
Due to the calendar contortions required to arrange and navigate the holiday publishing schedule, I am composing this column during the single digit dates of December. This is tricky, as I have no way of anticipating what grief or joy will have transpired in the interim. Or, to put it in contemporary terms: How many Twitter hashtags will have risen and fallen?
In light of this uncertainty, I choose for my subject today a word that will apply whatever the state of things—or the state of me—when this little essay is published: 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 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.
Want to be the first to know when Mike has a new book, or is coming to your area? Please sign up for the email list.