Tag Archives: gratitude

When Privilege is Grateful

In light of the spotlight on humanitarian crises and injustices across the world this Thanksgiving, I’m finding it really hard to be grateful.

On the one hand, I feel like I should appreciate that most of these atrocities are not directly impacting me or my loved ones. I should be grateful not to be searching for safety like a Syrian refugee family. I should be happy that I know where my loved ones are, ecstatic that they all have homes, food, and relatively healthy bodies. I should be glad that my family and many of my friends are not targets of violence and hate that has been perpetuated by terror attacks and brutal police misconduct.

But, I’m not really grateful for those things.

I refuse to look at my privilege as something to be grateful for. I know and appreciate the advantage that I have been given, just because of my skin color and the family I am a part of. But, I appreciate it the same way I appreciate the ocean–a powerful, sometimes scary presence in my life that I can only interact with when I come from a place of seeking to understand.

To be grateful for things that so few people have in this world just feels off to me somehow. I want so much more for the beings that inhabit this earth, and so much of what makes my life ‘good’ and ‘safe’ comes at the expense of others who are less fortunate–humans, animals, and planet alike.

So how do I answer the quintessential Thanksgiving Day question? What can I say I’m thankful for without feeling the words eroding away beneath me before they’re even spoken?

I’m amazingly grateful for connection. I’m grateful for the beings in my life that have opened me up, taken me in, shared with me, created with me, touched me and others’ lives in beautifully spiritual and human ways. I’m thankful for the beauty of the mountains, the strength of the wind, the patience of trees, the quiet of midnight, the questions in the sky. I’m grateful for music, for dance, for prayer, for communities that share those gifts with one another. I am grateful for hope.

There are so many things in my life that are good, and a lot of them are the direct result of luck. But what I am grateful for has little to nothing to do with who I am or the advantages I have.

I am grateful, above all else, for the wonderful, awesome, exhilarating parts of existence and for the fact that, with or without me, these wonders are shared and loved among people everywhere. On the days when we hear so many negative news stories reminding us of all the things in this world that are grim, I can only hold on to the potential of the utterly simple beauty surrounding us and hope that with all this light out there, we’ll one day figure out how to lift everyone above the clouds.

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Filling the Silence

Being a relatively non-religious person most of my life, I have never exactly established a personal relationship with prayer. Prayers were something my friends’ families said before dinner—a time when I’d bow my head and feel self conscious about not knowing the words. Any time I attended a Catholic mass, I found myself doing strange mumble-mouthing in an attempt to hide my ignorance. I much preferred the kind of prayer I found later, mostly on college retreats, that consisted of silence and personal reflection. But even that silence can be difficult.

Silence is a close friend of mine. I’m incredibly comfortable with silence. The reason the silence in prayer is difficult has a lot more to do with what fills my inner silence—my thoughts. After a few days of regular periods of silence (we have prayer service 3 times a day), I began to notice my focus drifting. No, not drifting. More like sprinting in four directions at once.

Prayer and meditation are similar for me, since ultimately I see them as ways to open your soul to forces within and outside your body. Personally, I tend to feel most connected with those forces when I feel strong emotions—or, maybe I feel strong emotions when I feel connected to those forces. Either way, based on this, I’ve taken up a new habit in my times of silent prayer and mediation that has been surprisingly successful for me: gratitude.

While I imagine the sisters’ silently listing off all the friends and family they are praying for, I run through memories. I see faces of loved ones, briefly relive times of struggle and sadness and conflict, recall joyous moments and all manner of tears. And over these images I can only think, “Thank you.”

My new method might seem a little self-centered, particularly given the number of people who I’d like to direct my positive energy toward. But since I have yet to figure out exactly how I feel comfortable doing that, for now I feel okay with simply appreciating. Ultimately, I can’t see any greater display of love and respect for the workings of life than to express gratitude for every piece of it. And isn’t love what it’s all about anyway?