I thought it would be a good idea to write about gratitude, especially this month, the month of our "Thanksgiving." My hope is that maybe, I, and whoever reads this column, can be even more mindful of what gratefulness is when we are with our families this Thanksgiving. Even better, maybe, we can practice gratefulness well after this holiday.
How often do we say "thank you," without thinking of what that actually means? How many times do people say, "Happy Thanksgiving," without taking a second to think of what gratitude really is. Maybe this is the time of year to explore this further.
My daughter Elizabeth enrolled in the University of Delaware, considering becoming a veterinarian. Among the many things that attracted her to that university was that there was a working farm on campus. Right next to the farm, there is an ice cream store, with ice cream made from the milk of the cows on that campus farm. During our first visit there we parked our car in the ice cream store parking lot, where a few feet away, cows were grazing, close to the fencing. While standing at the fence, I noticed a couple of cardinals in the tree branches right near us, so I ran back to the car to get my camera. As I was opening my car door a woman came out of the ice cream store, with her maybe five-year-old granddaughter, ice cream in her hand, and started walking toward the cows. I heard the woman say to her, "Now we will go thank the cows for milk." It appeared to me that it was a routine for them, getting ice cream, and then visiting the cows, to thank them for the milk. It struck me that at such a young age, this child was being taught the joy, and the reward, of feeling, and expressing gratitude. While so many of us adults take for granted the things we do have in life, this young child was learning to be truly appreciative of an ice cream cone, and the cows whose milk it was made from.
In our lives we go through crises, challenges, and hardships that will of course overshadow any sense of gratitude we may have felt before. Yet, even as we're going through that pain, we may feel overwhelmed and yes, even grateful for the love and support others bring to us during those difficult times. There are families who suffer the death of a child, the passing of a parent, and even the death of a grandparent. Family members gather at the "Ground Zero" - the hospital room, the home, the funeral home, where others come to support them. Then, in our darkest times, what do we somehow feel? Gratitude. Ever so slightly, our focus shifts from our pain and hardship, to appreciation for what others are doing for us.
On September 10th, 2004, NYPD Detectives Robert Parker and Patrick Rafferty were killed in the line of duty in Flatbush, Brooklyn. On the fifth anniversary, I had the honor of attending a memorial mass for Pat and Bobby, where Pat's wife Eileen spoke. Here is some of what she said: "The never ending support of the NYPD has given us peace and stability on so many different levels. It's because of this, that we are at a point in our lives where we are able to look forward, with promise. Our balance has shifted to the point where we can focus on the gifts we've been given, rather than what has been taken away."
I was blown away, and I still find Eileen's perspective truly remarkable.
But let's break this down to our everyday lives, when we are not dealing with hardship. We say thank you so often, but what does that really mean? Do we ever connect the concept of gratitude to those words? Do we take a moment to be grateful for the woman who drops off the FedEx package at our home? The stock worker at the supermarket, who takes a few moments to walk us three aisles away to show us something we're looking for? How about feeling grateful for a cool summer breeze, a beautiful sky, a bird that may land near us, allowing us to watch him, just for a moment? Do we take the time to recognize all that we should be really grateful for? It takes practice and some effort, but it is certainly worth it.
If Eileen Rafferty can somehow find a reason to be grateful after losing her husband, father of their three children, and if that grandmother in Delaware can walk her five year old granddaughter from the parking lot to the farm so she can thank the cows for the milk, maybe we can be grateful for all of the tender mercies that grace our lives every day. When we practice looking for them, we will see how many there are.
I am the author of this column, but I want you to know that I'm writing to myself as well. I hope to be able to focus on what is good in my life, rather than what may not be, and what I have been given, rather than what may have been taken away.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and for that, I am grateful to each of you.
Joe Fox is a Motivational Speaker, Leadership & Life Coach, Chief of Staff, Silverseal Security, U.S. Department of Justice Medal of Valor Review Board Member, Board of Directors, 9/11/01 Tribute Park, Board of Directors, 5Star Life Insurance Company, and former NYPD Transit Chief