Watching the jaw-dropping coverage of Hurricane Sandy, I saw an elderly woman who’d lost everything in Breezy Point, Queens, where some 100 homes had burned to the ground. As she searched the ashes for a remnant of her former life, she found a tiny, shattered ceramic plate with the image of a leaf. Clutching it to her breast, she sobbed, “This will give me strength.”
I couldn’t help but weep, moved by her courage and gratitude at finding a broken dish amid the ruins. Where do we find the strength to practice thanksgiving when experiencing such heartbreak and devastation?
Ninety-four year old Tao Porchon-Lynch, one of my mentors, refers to nature as her classroom and her most authentic teacher. If this is true, then Hurricane Sandy surely has many lessons for us.
First, Sandy is a clear and oft forgotten reminder of how insignificant we are against the forces of nature. What a fallacy to think we’re control! It’s deeply humbling, if disconcerting.
It also makes me wonder – as I suspect many of us do – why it takes tragedy to remind us how precious life is. Community spirit and kindness are evident when we remember that whatever we’re in, we’re in it together. The cooperation, strength and nonpartisan leadership exhibited by President Obama, Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Christie has been nothing short of inspiring. This is what leadership is about, and I, for one, am mighty thankful for that!
Nature needn’t be enormous, wild or deadly to teach us, however.
Consider the lotus flower. Born submerged with its roots in mud, the lotus literally grows towards the light some eight to twelve inches above the water’s surface. In Buddhism, this growth pattern has long symbolized our life’s journey – from attachment to materialism (mud) through life experience (water) to realization as we surface (light.)
The lotus also embodies strength. For as delicate and beautiful as it appears above water, it is incredibly tough beneath the surface. In fact, the “root strength” of its stem is the very thing that allows the lotus to grow so far from the muddy depths towards the sun.
Of course, our human journey isn’t quite so linear as the life of the lotus. There’s no cosmic insurance policy, and life often unfolds in ways that make no sense at all. It’s not always easy to be grateful.
Folks who lost everything yet nevertheless say, “It could have been worse,” have exhibited extraordinary examples of gratitude. Through the intention of cultivating thankfulness, the journey towards recovery begins.
Such people remind us that gratitude is a key component of resilience. Research has shown it can make you healthier and happier. Even more, it compels us to recognize the connectedness of our lives and our mutual dependence on one another to survive and thrive.
Remember, you don’t always have to say thanks with words. We can express gratitude through the work we do and the things we do to help others. An act of generosity, checking on a neighbor, a smile: these are all acts of reciprocity, simply giving back because of all we’ve been given.
Let us rise up and be thankful,
for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little,
and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick,
and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die;
so, let us all be thankful. – Buddha
Wishing you and yours a happy and resilient Thanksgiving!