The Paradox of Gratitude

I visited several classrooms this week and plan to visit a few more on Monday to do a poetry lesson.  I read the students a book that I found in Jack’s library about the secret of being thankful.  In the book the secret is revealed that the more gratitude  one feels, the happier the heart will be.  I told the students, even the first graders, that the particular day that was set aside for giving thanks was established during one of our darkest times in history.  In his infinite wisdom, Abraham Lincoln realized that to practice gratitude in times of trouble is to see a faint candle in a pitch black room.  I showed them my poems about the things I felt grateful for:  a bulldog who brought joy back into a sad home and a poem about my seventy-seven year old mother who still rocks her yoga, cares for her great-grandson and listens to her grown daughters cry.

I wasn’t prepared for what happened next in one classroom.  I noticed a little girl talking to a boy in Spanish and then watched as he put his head on the desk and started crying.  “What’s wrong?”  “He can’t write in English and he is sad because he doesn’t know his mom and dad.  They left him.”   Sigh.  Gulp.  Oh crap.  “Well, who takes care of you?” I asked.  She said some words to him in Spanish and he answered.  I said, “Well, those aunts sound pretty amazing.  Do they make sure you have food in your belly, clothes and a home?” She translated. He started smiling.  “Si.”   “I think you do have something to write about then.”  I noticed a soccer ball on his shirt and pointed to it. “Do you like to play soccer?”  “Si.”   “Well, let’s write a poem about soccer.” And I proceeded (with a lot of assistance from the little girl) to help this boy write  gratitude poems to his relatives and to a soccer ball.   His face lit up as I read them.

It happened again and again in the other rooms.  One little girl, “My  Dad’s in jail but he makes me laugh when I see him.  Can I write one about him?”  Then there was the little boy who got stuck on his poem about his Dad because a couple years ago his father was killed in front of him.   I gave him a  little assurance that although my father is dead too, I can still write him a poem, and he was soon on his way to creating a one sentence poem to his murdered father.  Despite some of their dire circumstances, every child was able to write several poems. This gratitude thing is almost a paradox.

I’ve been teaching in a bubble for about ten years.   And I’ll be the first to admit that I liked that my own children went to school in the Brentwood Bubble (my Tennessee friends will understand that term).   But I will admit that God had been nudging me for awhile.  I felt almost guilty from time to time when I knew that less than ten miles to the north of my school in Brentwood, there was a group of kids that maybe needed me more.  Be careful with your whispers to God.  He may just give you what your heart is seeking.

Our world seems to be falling apart.  Or is it really?   Can you think of another time in the history of our world where things seemed forlorn? Christian persecution, The Crusades, The Inquisition, The Black Death, our own Civil War and Civil Wars across the globe, the Holocaust,World Wars, and now terrorists who have no respect for human life.  There have been hundreds of tyrannical kings and dictators: Attila the Hun, Ivan the Terrible, Mao Zedong, Hitler, Stalin, Amin, Pol Pot, Hussain, al-Assad, Kim Jong, and the list goes on and on as history has repeated itself.  What pulled people together in times of persecution, death and tragedy?  Hope.  Resilience.  But it didn’t come without the help of someone. Even in the midst of our fears of this crazy world, we must remember to answer that call.   I saw a glimmer of that in the eyes of the students whose despair was empowered into hope as they were able to find gratitude.

I’m going to set aside the problems of the world this week, and I’m not going to feel guilty about it.  I’m going to shop with my daughter who is coming home for the first time since August.  I’m going to drink wine, make lots of food and overindulge.  I’m going to play games with my family and laugh until my sides hurt.   I’m going to light a candle of hope in a dark, dark world that needs to find its way.