As a kid I remember feeling sorry for a lot of people. There was a girl in elementary school with a cleft palate and I was really nice to her because I worried others wouldn't be. In middle school I worked in an orphanage in Penza, Russia and recall the unbearable sadness I felt for kids without parents. Last week I sat at a red light watching a guy on crutches try to manage his cardboard sign while he made it over to a driver who was willing to give him money.
In all of those moments there was a pause where I thought about how good my life was. I'd clear my mind of the clutter and remember what's most important. Many of us would call this practice thankfulness.
Lately though, I've started to wonder if that's the right way to access the calming and centering feeling of gratitude. Certainly the ability to compare our situation to those who (we tell ourselves) are less fortunate, and then achieve some level of gratefulness, is a good thing. Thankful, grateful people are healthier, smile more and don't get as many wrinkles.
But I wonder if there's a deeper kind of thankfulness - one that doesn't require comparison, but wells from deep inside on its own. Like a song we hear always - without external stimulus. And I wonder if that's a sign of deeper living. Comparisons can drive us to do selfless things but I also think they can distract us from real gratitude.
So this Thanksgiving, I'm certainly thankful for a roof over my head, fantastic relationships, an amazing job and Taco Bell - because some people in the world don't have these things. But I'm also thankful for the daily opportunity to dive deeper.
There is an opportunity for gratefulness simply because we wake up. There is a reverence we can feel between each breath. There is a hope we can know inside of ourselves like a secret. There is freedom from comparisons that allows us to be more selfless than when motivated by pity. For these things also, I am thankful.