Sunday, August 19, 2007

On gratitude.

I hope this makes sense. I'm feeling scatter-brained today, so I'm not sure if this will all come together or not. But I want to talk about something I don't think we all think or talk about enough, and that's gratitude.

I am feeling grateful today, for lots of reasons, but for one in particular: I went to my Meeting for Worship this morning (the Quaker name for "going to church"), and - thank goodness - there was one of our younger Friends (I can call him that, as he's half my age), safe and sound and sitting on one of the ancient benches. This young man is one of my heroes, although he'd blush and shuffle his feet if I told him that to his face. He's recently graduated from law school and just finished his law boards. While he was a student, he and some other students started a program to provide free legal assistance and representation for women and children who are victims of domestic violence. That program will continue now that he's left the school. We are all grateful for knowing him, and I know the people he's helped were all grateful that he and his colleagues were there for them in their time of need. But that's not the half of it.

Late last month, this young man joined a group from Christian Peacemaker Teams and went off for two weeks in Hebron, to live and work with the Palestinians there. Now, if you know anything about the Middle East, you know that this is one of the most dangerous cities on the planet, so we were all desperately worried about him while he was gone. We also all had at the back of our minds the story of the beloved Friend Tom Fox, who, as a member of a CPT group, was taken hostage and subsequently murdered in Iraq. So, we were all terrified for him the whole time he was gone. As is his way, he told us all today that the scariest part of the trip was riding with the cabbies in Hebron, because they drive "like maniacs." We took him at his word. He talked about what an amazing experience he'd had, and we all can't wait to hear more in the coming weeks.

So, as I sat in the silence today, I felt grateful for his safe return to us and to his family. I thought about how grateful I am that my own adult son is safe at home (finally, now, as I write this, after his being away for three days at a "music festival" in America's most dangerous city) with his mother, his brother, and me, and not overseas in harm's way fighting Mr. Bush's War of Empire. I felt grateful for the rain that's been falling here all day, because we so sorely need it, and grateful at the same time that we're not in the path of a hurricane, as so many folks will be tonight. I felt grateful that no one in my family has to go hundreds of feet underground to make a living, and, while I'm saddened at the thought that so many families are grieving today, I guess I'm grateful that I am not, even as I hold those families in The Light.

Most of all, though, I felt grateful just to be in that place this morning. In a week or so, the fifth anniversary of my mother's death will be upon us. My mom died exactly ninety days after my father died of a sudden heart attack. My mom had been sick for years - dying by degrees, really - and my dad's death was the final blow. She literally gave up after he was gone. It wasn't really surprising, but I was there when she died, and it was a really difficult struggle coming to terms with all that, with the experience of watching her die. It's a lot of emotional stuff with which I'm still dealing. For a good six months after she passed, I was totally consumed by the settling of my parents' estate, and I didn't really grieve much. Shortly after the final settlement and the sale of their home, my emotional roof caved in. I should have probably gone to a therapist or something, but I didn't, and I'm still picking up those pieces because of that. Being the cement-headed person I can be sometimes, I wanted to try to get my life straightened out "by myself." My wife and kids were a big help, as were my colleagues and friends at work. The September after my mom's death, I was blessed with a roster of some of the most amazingly compassionate and kind-hearted middle school students I've ever had the honor of teaching, and they helped me get through the year without even knowing what they were doing for me. Things started to work out, although they're still not all "right" yet, but they're getting there..

And I did something else back then: I went back to Meeting. I tried a spiritual route to dealing with my grief, but, at first, it was hard. I'd been away from organized religion for many years, but although I still felt like I was a believing, "spiritual" person, the old way of doing things - the United Methodist Church in which I was raised - had stopped speaking to me in my late teens. I dabbled in Buddhism, but found some its basic teachings clashed with some of my core personal beliefs, although the practice of meditation worked wonders for easing my pain, in the way that sitting in silence does now. Then I remembered having visited the same Meeting where I am now a member during another time of crisis and pain in my life. During my second year in college, my closest friend in the world was killed in a motorcycle accident. He was the first friend I'd ever lost to death, and everyone who knew him was devastated by his untimely passing. I knew Dave (yeah, we were "Dave and Dave") through my old church: we were youth group helpers together. But after he died, the very last place I wanted to be was in that church, because everywhere I went in that town reminded me of him. A close friend recommended I try a Quaker Meeting for Worship. "You'll like the silence," she said (I've never forgotten that). So I attended for about a month, four First Days in a row. I never talked to anyone there: I just went in, sat in the back, took in what was happening, and left at the "rise of Meeting" (when the Meeting for Worship ends). Then I moved on, but I had been moved. Obviously. Because when I needed that warm and trusting silence again, it was there for me, almost twenty-five years later. So I went back one day, almost without thinking, on a whim, really.

And this time, I stayed.

I've been attending my Meeting now for four years, and I've been a member for three. I have made friends there, people I think will be friends for life. I serve on two committees (Quakers love committees), and this past year, I co-led an Adult First Day School ("Sunday school") class, where we discussed and picked apart one of my favorite Quaker books. Becoming a Friend has enriched and informed and improved my life, and it has helped heal and make me whole again. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

Yes, there is a point here. When we scroll down the page of this and the other blogs we read and contribute to, it's really easy to become angry or cynical or frustrated or just plain sad. There is so much pain and suffering out there, and so much that makes us angry. And I hope I haven't bored y'all too much with all this religious talk here. I don't think you have to be "a believer" to get my point. But one of the things being a Friend has taught me is the importance of gratitude: of taking the time to think about and to be truly grateful for the good things we have in our lives, whether it be our health, our families, our friends, our careers, or having a place like this to share and rant and laugh with other like-minded folks.

Or just being grateful for a quiet place to sit on a rainy Sunday morning.

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