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The Genetics of Gratefulness

By Rev. Dr. David Alicea, UCC of Paradise Hills

     In his autobiography, Breaking Barriers, syndicated columnist Carl Rowan tells about a teacher who greatly influenced his life.  “Miss Thompson,” he recalls, “reached into her desk drawer and pulled out a piece of paper containing a quote attributed to Chicago architect Daniel Burnham.  I listened intently as she read, ‘Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized.  Make big plans, aim high in hope and work.  Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us.’ More than 30 years later,” he continues, “I gave a speech in which I said that Frances Thompson had given me a desperately needed belief in myself.  A newspaper printed the story, and someone mailed the clipping to my beloved teacher.  She wrote me: ’You have no idea what that newspaper story meant to me.  For years, I endured my brother’s arguments that I had wasted my life, that I should have married and had a family.  When I read that you gave me credit for helping to launch a marvelous career, I put the clipping in front of my brother.  After he’d read it, I said, ‘You see, I didn’t really waste my life, did I?’”

     Being grateful is a state of being!  According to Dr. Daniel Amen, CEO and medical director of  the The Amen Clinics, people pre-conditioned to thoughts of gratefulness use a great deal of their brains.  Being grateful, it appears, sets up our brain neurons for successful thought process enhancement.  This “attitude of gratitude,” I suggest, works especially well during the chaos, pressures and demands of the Thanksgiving and Christmas season.

     Being grateful is also a much desired art in today’s world of political, social, economic and ecclesiastical turmoil, this era of change and challenge in which we have been chosen by God to live.   I consider myself a prophet of hope  but recognize that it is not easy to be grateful when things are not going your way and don’t seem to be getting better, not easy to be grateful while trying to survive in a world that is restructuring its spiritual outlook and its way of doing business.  We might well echo and share Miss Thompson’s existential concern:  Has my life been a waste? 

     I have good news for you! The genetics of being grateful starts when we reevaluate our norm of life and sense of worth.  It begins by understanding that being grateful means to embrace and value what you have – family, friends, church, health, strength, a Conference and an excellent Conference minister with a superb staff and hard-working personnel, the will to continue marching toward meeting our goals and striving to grow as Christians and a God who continues to reveal his love in Christ Jesus while empowering the church to be progressive – and not what you don’t have!

     Another element of gratitude is resilience.   A resilient person understands we fall down and then we get up, we cry and then we laugh, we are strong and then we are weak, we run and sometimes we walk, we understand and then we are confused.  Resiliency in meeting life’s challenges leads to gratitude for life’s lessons.

     Finally, the genetics of being grateful is born from the encounter between our humanity and the divine.  We are capable of experiencing God’s grace!  We can come before its glory and be transformed by faith.   One of the ten lepers understood that God’s word was good enough to cleanse him and bring him back to family, society and God.  That is why he had to turn back in order to complete the cycle in life – being grateful!  Your life’s cycle will not be completed until you take the time to touch base with all the myriad of people that in the past and present touched your life in ways that transformed you.

     To take the time to express your appreciation and extend your human touch from heart to heart is the ethos of mature people. To understand that you did not do it alone and needed  and received help is our ultimate crown of glory. 

     Being grateful can also make a huge difference in another’s life, as the following story from Bits and Pieces (October 1990) reveals:

Two golfers stepped up to the first tee on the St. Andrews course at Ardsley, New York, one of America’s oldest courses. The elder one was a kindly man who played a thoughtful, deliberate game. The younger man was full of pride and impatience. On the first hole he sliced, lost his ball in the tall grass, shot another one, and had a score of eight instead of four or five. On the second tee he began to lecture the caddie: “Keep your eye peeled. I’m not here to do your job for you!” Thereafter, every bad shot was the caddie’s fault! At the end of the first nine holes, the young man was so enraged that he discharged the caddie and carried his own bag. “That caddie doesn’t like me,” he said to his companion, “ and I’m **** sure I don’t like him. He made me nervous. Thank God he’s gone!”

After several holes had been played without a word, the older player broke the silence: “Several years ago a little kid from Yonkers came up here and was taken on as a caddie. He was a wonderfully sweet-natured boy; quick-witted, willing, and had a nose for golf. Everybody liked him. His name was William; he had a club foot. But that didn’t affect his quality as a caddie. It was a pleasure to go out with him. A certain famous doctor, a member of the club, became interested in William and took him South on a long trip. When William returned, he went back to caddying. The doctor, however, had to give up golf shortly after that because of his health. He died a few months later. One morning I was playing a round with William carrying my bag. Spring was running riot all over Westchester County and the fields and hedges were alive with blossoms. William gathered flowers until he had quite a bouquet. ‘Who’s the girl, William?’ I asked. ‘I haven’t any girl, sir,’ he said sheepishly. ‘They’re for my friend, the doctor—twice a week I take flowers to his grave.’ “You see,” the man went on, “the doctor took him down South that winter and operated on his foot. He made the boy whole again. And William never forgot the doctor’s act of kindness.”

“Now that’s a caddie worth having,” the younger man said. “What ever happened to this William?”

“He carried your bag today for the first nine holes.”

     Remember the Genetics of being grateful starts with you,  PEACE.

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