Tennessee Williams put it exactly right: “You know we live in light and shadow. That’s what we live in – a world of light and shadow; and it’s confusing.” (Orpheus Descending)
No life is simple, but along comes Thanksgiving and tradition compels us to emphasize gratitude regardless of our circumstances, how we may feel and conditions in the world.
For some, gratitude comes easily. For others gratefulness is challenging. Nurturing gratitude, however, is one of our most effective means to dispel the “shadow” and lift us towards the “light.”
Here are a number of reflections from Jewish tradition and world literature that offer us perspective, insight, wisdom, and hope.
“Hodu l’Adonai ki tov, ki l’olam chasdo – Give thanks to God, for Adonai is good…God’s steadfast love is eternal.” – Psalm 136 (9th century, B.C.E.)
“When you arise in the morning give thanks for the morning light, for your life and strength. Give thanks for your food and the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies in yourself.” – Native American Prayer, Tecumseh Tribe
“How strange we are in the world, and how presumptuous our doings! Only one response can maintain us: gratefulness for witnessing the wonder, for the gift of our unearned right to serve, to adore, and to fulfill. It is gratefulness which makes the soul great.” – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972)
“Ingratitude to a human being is ingratitude to God.” – Rabbi Samuel Hanagid (993-1056 CE)
“What have you done for me lately is the ingrate’s question.” – Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
“If you cannot be grateful for what you have received, then be thankful for what you have been spared.” – Yiddish proverb
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” – William Arthur Ward, American scholar, author, pastor and teacher (1921-1997)
“Gratitude, not understanding, is the secret to joy and equanimity.” – Anne Lamott, writer (b. 1954)
“Thank everyone who calls out your faults, your anger, your impatience, your egotism; do this consciously, voluntarily.” – Jean Toomer, poet and novelist (1894-1967)
“We should write an elegy for every day that has slipped through our lives unnoticed and unappreciated. Better still, we should write a song of thanksgiving for all the days that remain.” – Sarah Ban Breathnach, author (b 1948)
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” – Cicero, Roman philosopher (106 BC – 43 BC)
“If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘Thank you,’ that would suffice.” – Meister Eckhart, German theologian, philosopher (1260-1328)
“When I started counting my blessings my whole life turned around.” – Willie Nelson
“The highest tribute to the dead is not grief, but gratitude.” – Thorton Wilder
“I can no other answer make but thanks, and thanks, and thanks, and ever thanks.” – William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
Bonnie Pastor said:
What a fabulous collection of quotations! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Sent from my iPhone
Robert Newport said:
One more from the Mussar Masters: “ha’karat ha’tov”…..recognize the good….Dr. Robert
Roger Schwarz said:
What a sweet blog! I will read it to the assembled at Thanksgiving dinner, express my personal gratitude then invite comment from the others.
Joel Rochlin said:
It is easier to focus on the dark and be negative, it is harder to focus on the light and be grateful. It is important to be aware that the two are not mutually exclusive and in fact co-exist and both need attention.
Leila Winick said:
Hi Rabbi: This is Leila Winick I have been following your blog for a while and it is especially touching at this time of the year. My 88-year-old mother fell and broke her hip and has been in several hospitals from Palm Springs all the way to Ontario during the last two weeks. It has really been difficult and challenging for the entire family. Reading your gratitude posts helps me put everything into perspective.warmest wishes for a great Warmest wishes for a great Thanksgiving holiday with your family and loved ones Leila, Ken and Jimmy.
Where honor is due: Tecumseh is not the name of a tribe but the name of a famous Shawnee Chief.