One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach. One can collect only a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few… My life… lacks this quality of significance and therefore beauty, because there is so little empty space…. There are so few empty pages in my engagement pad, or empty hours in the day, or empty rooms in my life in which to stand alone and find myself. Too many activities, and people, and things. Too many worthy activities, valuable things, and interesting people. For it is not merely the trivial which clutters our lives but the important as well. We can have a surfeit of treasures – an excess of shells, where one or two would be significant.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1906 – 2001, American Writer and Aviator, Author of Gifts of the Sea
Probably easier for those, like us in Ireland, who do not have to go to work this morning… Then again, probably a good reminder for those who do.
There is joy
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
in the spoon and the chair
that cry “hello there, Anne”
in the godhead of the table
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
and I mean
though often forget,
to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing
as the holy birds at the kitchen window
peck into their marriage of seeds.
So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.
The Joy that isn’t shared, I’ve heard,
Anne Sexton, Welcome Morning
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.