GRATITUDE

For me, every hour is grace. And I feel gratitude in my heart each time I can meet someone and look at his or her smile.—Elie Wiesel

Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world. —John Milton


“Story-listening requires a childlike wisdom that combines innocence and experience, and no one can be both innocent and experienced in the presence of every story.  And so not every reader will "get" every story, at least not "right away.  Story, like the spirituality that it conveys, cannot be commanded or forced;  it must float loosely within its vehicle, the better to lodge in each hearer's individual spirit.” Those words began the journey of storytelling and story-listening that Ernie Kurtz and I embarked upon in “The Spirituality of Imperfection.” In that book we included many stories that took some time and thought for me to “get.” The following story, however, took my breath away the first time I heard it and the many hundreds of times I have read or recalled it since. It is truly a favorite among favorites.

A blind man was begging in a city park.  Someone approached and asked him whether people were giving generously.  The blind man shook a nearly empty tin. 

His visitor said to him, "Let me write something on your card."  The blind man agreed.  That evening the visitor returned.  "Well, how were things today?" 

The blind man showed him a tin full of money and asked, "What on earth did you write on that card?" 

"Oh," said the other, "I merely wrote 'Today is a spring day, and I am blind.'"

Spirituality itself is a gift.  No one "earns" spirituality, no one can acquire it or possess it, for spirituality is a reality spontaneously, freely given, and gratitude is the only possible response to that gift.  In that gratitude, from that understanding of how much has been given us and how gift-ed we are, we become able to see at work some reality higher, larger, greater than ourselves.  In Later Masters, Martin Buber offers this story:

"Where is the dwelling of God?" 

This was the question with which the rabbi of Kotzk surprised a number of learned men who happened to be visiting him.

They laughed at him:  "What a thing to ask!  Is not the whole world full of his glory!"

Then he answered his own question:

"God dwells wherever man lets him in."

Ernie and I end the chapter on gratitude with these words and with this “story,” defined in one place as “an account of past events in someone's life or in the evolution of something.” That “something” in this case might be seen as the search for meaning extracted from unimaginable suffering:

The vision of "giftedness" is transmitted through stories.  Stories speak the language of the heart, giving us the means to express our gratitude.  Among the greatest of modern spiritual storytellers is Elie Wiesel.  A survivor of the Holocaust, Wiesel received the Nobel Peace Prize for his writings, which speak so profoundly to the experience and the spirituality of the Jewish people.  Words that Wiesel spoke on the occasion of accepting that award sum up the experience of gratitude as eloquently as is humanly possible.

 

"No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night.

"We know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour an offering;  not to share them would mean to betray them.  Our lives no longer belong to us alone;  they belong to all those who need us desperately." 

". . . And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.  We must always take sides.  Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."

 And that is why we tell stories.