No, no, there is no going back.
Less and less you are
that possibility you were.
More and more you have become
those lives and deaths
that have belonged to you.
Wendell Berry, Sabbaths – 1993, I
This poem is not first and foremost about aging and dying. It’s about generosity, one of the most life-giving of all virtues. Generosity does not require material abundance. When I think back on the many people who have been so generous toward me, I never think of money or “things.” Instead, I think of the way they gave me their presence, their confidence, their affirmation, support, and blessing — all gifts of “self” that any of us can give.
And where does generosity come from? Perhaps from another life-giving virtue, the one called gratitude. When I take the time to breathe in my life and breathe out my gratitude for the gifts I’ve been given, only one question arises: “How can I keep these gifts alive?”
I know only one answer: “Become a giver yourself, pass your gifts along, and do it extravagantly!” As Wendell Berry says, “Every day you have less reason/not to give yourself away.”
Parker Palmer, Breathe In My Life, Breathe Out My Gratitude
To me, life in its totality is good. And when you understand life in its totality, only then can you celebrate; otherwise not. Celebration means: whatsoever happens is irrelevant – I will celebrate. Celebration is not conditional on certain things: “When I am happy then I will celebrate,” or, “When I am unhappy I will not celebrate.” Celebration is unconditional; I celebrate life.
Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful,
then no matter how much we have we will not be happy –
because we will always want to have something else or something more.
David Steindl-Rast, osb
The heart receives many conflicting messages about how to relate to the world and what brings happiness. In the US Thanksgiving leads into Black Friday, and the influence of this notion is now reproduced around the world, including here in Ireland.
For many people in our culture, the heart fills up with joy, with gratefulness, and just at the moment when it wants to overflow and really the joy comes to itself, at that moment, advertisement comes in and says “No, no, there’s a better model, and there’s a newer model, and your neighbor has a bigger one.” And so instead of overflowing, we make the bowl bigger, and bigger, and bigger. And it never overflows. It never gives us this joy. It’s affluent, this affluency side that means it always flows in, it doesn’t overflow. It flows in, and in, and in, and in, and chokes us eventually. And we don’t have to deprive ourselves of anything, but we can learn that the real joys come with quality, not with quantity.
David Steindl-Rast, Anatomy of Gratitude, Interview with Krista Tippett, On Being.
A special greeting for Thanksgiving for all those who read and follow the Blog in the United States. Gratitude helps us to focus on what we have, and not on what we lack,
I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite – only a sense of existence. I am ready to try this for the next ten thousand years, and exhaust it. How sweet to think of my extremities well charred, and my intellectual part too, so that there is no danger of worm or rot for a long while. My breath is sweet to me. O how I laugh when I think of my vague indefinite riches. No run on the bank can drain it, for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment.
Henry David Thoreau, Letter, Friends and Followers, 1856
One regret, dear world,
I am determined not to have
when I am dying on my deathbed
is that I did not kiss you enough.