Thank You For…

Thank You For… February 24, 2014

I had a great time visiting New York City this past weekend. A couple years ago, I would not have expected to enjoy “The City” ever again.

You see, I called New York home for five years. And by the time we prepared to move out of the city, I was pretty overwhelmed by that amazing, infuriating, beautiful, exhausting island.

For the first four years we lived there, I tamped down my frustration, my fear, my overwhelm. But when we made the decision to move out of the city…oooh, it just came flowing out of me.

Rage at people who pushed me on the subway.
Yes, Manhattan made me cry.

But we had just decided to move. We weren’t actually moving for another eight months, so I had to do something. I started a list on Facebook. I called it: “Things to like — or even love — about New York City.”

My first item was the evergreen boughs packed around the sidewalk trees on 17th street in the winter. Number 41 was a favorite: I was grateful for the MTA guy on my morning commute at the 14th Street M15 select service bus stop. He was there the entire year I took that bus. Rain, sleet, snow, hundred degree heat. He was so kind – even in the midst of a mass of rather grumpy commuters. He always said “Good Morning.”

The list helped. It made my last year in New York possible, pleasant even. Friends added to it and helped me see the city in ways I simply could not before I started the list. Searching for tiny things that gave me joy became a spiritual practice. Being grateful gave me new way of seeing the world around me.If you live in New York, perhaps you, too, have noticed that the sidewalk at LaGuardia airport sparkles.

A few months after I started my New York City gratitude list, I was called to the Emergency Room of the hospital where I served as a chaplain. I found the patient who had requested a pastorin an isolation room, protecting either him or the rest of us from germs. I donned a mask and entered. He was delighted to see me. I was, to be honest, more than a little nervous.

As we spoke, I learned that this man was HIV positive, that his HIV had developed into AIDS,and that He had come in that day because his pneumonia had reoccurred. He had cancer too, but he didn’t want treatment. He did not even want to know how much of his body was affected. He felt alright, he said. He was homeless and mostly estranged from his family. He needed some new clothes and wondered if I could help. He spoke quickly, frenetically. I wasn’t sure what would come next.

And then he taught me a priceless lesson. He wanted to read something to me, (I don’t even remember now what it was) and he reached into a tattered pocket to pull out a piece of paper.

After he’d retrieved a broken pair of glasses from a different pocket, he paused, closed his eyes and said: “Thank You, God, for the ability to read.”

Thank you, God, for the ability to read.

His prayer made me reexamine the gift that many of us receive in early elementary school and then proceed to take for granted for the rest of our lives. The man in the ER, with so much to be angry, frustrated, despairing about, with a simple prayer of gratitude, had opened my eyes.

The rest of that day the power of that simple thank you washed over me:
Thank you for the ability to walk, to express myself.
Thank you for being able to open this door for someone.
Thank you, God, for the ability to read.
What before was ordinary, with a reminder, became glorious.

I am trying to remember the power of that pause these days. It is a hard time for many of the people we love. I am learning that gratefulness is not always easy, but always lifts the heart and, it is always as simple as a Thank You For…

For what are you grateful today?

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