Truly grateful people excel in generosity. Theirs is the open door, the feast, and the extra chair. They live outside the narrow corner of self-preoccupation, and they welcome to the table the beloved and the irritating. Albert Schweitzer described them in this way: “At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person.” He encourages us to give thanks to those who light the flame within us.
Just as the Thanksgiving meal is a time of nostalgia, gratitude takes us back to moments of good manners, civility, and refinement. In some ways, giving thanks has a medieval allure: folded hands and linen napkins, crystal glassware and virtues carved in stone. Gratitude seems painted in a bygone time, as old-fashioned as a handwritten note sent by snail-mail.
Henri Nouwen wrote that gratitude, the giving of thanks, is a discipline—a conscious act. When we are grateful, we live with new attentiveness. In turn, we bring new eyes to nature and to others, and so, of course, we give thanks. Wake up, smell the coffee, the roses, and a new day.
Gratitude does not come naturally. The newborn cry is not one of thanksgiving. If my mother brought in our birthday cake or our school lunches and we had no response, she would ask, “And what do you say?” Soon enough, we had learned the magic words of “Thank you.” I love Gertrude Stein’s “Silent gratitude isn’t very much to anyone.” My mother would have laughed in agreement with Stein’s words: gratitude comes in verbal expression, or it does not come at all.
In my journey toward generosity, courtesy, discipline, and expression, I have reasons to be grateful. At Thursday’s feast, those seated around the table will join hands, as always, and begin by giving thanks to the Giver of all good: “Bless us, O, Lord, and these Thy Gifts which we are about to receive from Thy bounty . . .” In keeping with tradition, we will lift our glasses and say to one another, “Happy Thanksgiving.”