Sometimes it’s easy to be grateful because some things simply demand gratitude, such as avoiding a collision or winning a lottery — or even just finding $20 in an old coat pocket. But it can also be hard to be grateful. Every day. Day after day. Life gets busy and overwhelming partly because of the big things swirling around us, but also because of the small and petty things that demand our attention. It can be hard to refocus and reflect on our blessings. That is why November, the month of Thanksgiving, has become my time to make a concerted effort by focusing on a different gratitude each day. And, as with most things in my life, that includes a healthy dose of books.
A great book to start with is “Gratitude” by Oliver Sacks. After being diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer, Sacks wrote,
“I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude…. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”
This is a slim volume of four essays on the meaning of life and what it means to fill one’s life with meaning. I am grateful for my life and the opportunity to fill it with meaning.
After another mass shooting, I’m grateful to be alive. I call this gratitude by comparison. But it can also be hard to be grateful in the face of such things if we allow ourselves to give in to despair. Antoine Leiris wrote an open letter on Facebook to the terrorists who killed his wife at a Paris concert leaving their young son without a mother. That letter became the book, “You Will Not Have My Hate.” At only 144 pages, this is a small book but not an unimportant book. And while it is heartbreaking, it is also very inspiring and, yes, gratitude inducing. Leiris wrote,
“But the most beautiful moments of our lives are not those we stick in photograph albums. I remember all those moments when we just took the time to love each other. Seeing an old couple and wanting to be like them. A burst of laughter. An empty morning, lounging in the comfort of our sheets.”
I am grateful for all of those small moments.
My gratitude often centers on nature, family, and community. “Britt Marie Was Here” by Fredrik Backman is a book about a woman that, well, reminds me a lot of me — a somewhat socially awkward introvert. Like most of Backman’s books, community and family play a huge roll. Community helps Britt Marie face some personal crises while she in turn helps to revive the community.
“Because life is more than the shoes your feet are in. More than the person you are. It’s the togetherness. The parts of yourself in another.”
I am very grateful for my family and for our community here. I am grateful for place — and time — and connection.
“Pale Blue Dot” by Carl Sagan is one of those books that can induce gratitude in me on a grand scale. Sagan writes,
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”
I’m so very grateful to be on this beautiful blue dot we call home.
These are just some of the books that sustain me and give me a sense of gratitude. What are some of your favorites?