A couple of years ago, I began experiencing chest pains, nausea, and cold sweats. As these are signs of a heart-attack, I went up to the local walk-in clinic and soon there-after I found myself sitting in the emergency room. The doctors and nurses were convinced that I was in the midst of what they now refer to as a “heart event”. While awaiting some further tests, my mind raced to all the worst possible scenarios that I could imagine. Fear was my over-riding emotion. Fear that my heart was failing. Fear that decades of not putting my health first was catching up with me. Fear of what my future might hold. Fear of impending medical procedures. Fear of not being able to work, to pay our bills, especially our mortgage. Fear of turning into some sort of invalid. Fear that my future was being taken out of my control. Fear that I was getting old long before I expected to.
There is nothing like an emergency room to strike fear into your heart, especially when the pain that drove you there is throbbing in your chest. So, by the time I’d spent several hours enduring various tests, I thought I was ready for anything. That is until a young doctor who looked like he was about twelve years old walked into my cubicle. A part of me wanted to ask this child-doctor to go find a grown-up doctor, because this was serious business and I wanted to talk to an adult. Fortunately, I managed to suppress my ageism. You cannot even begin to imagine my delight when the child-doctor pronounced his diagnosis. Gallbladder. No heart-attack. A severe gallbladder attack. These kinds of attacks are quite common in people who have recently managed to lose weight. My reward for loosing 50 pounds was an afternoon in the emergency room.
I couldn’t believe my luck. I begin thanking everyone and everything for my extremely good fortune. Thanks be to God. Thanks be to medical science. Thanks be to my heart. Thanks be to the child-doctor! Thanks be for the opportunity to do better in the future. Thanks be for a future! I wept with joy! A gallbladder attack is a wonderful thing. A gallbladder attack is not a heart attack. I could go home. I could go back to work. I could pay the mortgage.
All my worst fears were gone. I would take this as a warning to never ever take anything for granted. When I went outside, everything looked so beautiful. It was as if I had awakened from a nightmare. I was so very grateful that I promised myself never again to take my health for granted, never again to take life for granted, never again to forget what a precious gift life is. From now on, I was going to pay attention to the wonders of this amazing gift of life.
Thanksgiving is all about paying attention. Thanksgiving is about recognizing the wonders that we all too often take for granted. That we should set aside a holiday, a holy day, to celebrate the wonders that we enjoy every day, suggests that paying attention isn’t as easy as it sounds. Sometimes, it takes a few chest pains for us to notice the miracle of our beating hearts. Sometimes, it takes the failure of our bodies for us to appreciate our bodies.
There is an Irish blessing that I didn’t fully understand until the afternoon that we drove home from the hospital. “May you be alive until you die.” I began to understand this blessing one day while I was sitting at the bedside of a man in palliative care. We were talking about his immanent death and he asked me to pray that God would grant him a graceful death. He didn’t want to be drugged or unconscious when he died. He wanted to be surrounded by his loved ones and aware of what was going on so that he could take his leave with dignity and grace. He said he wanted to be alive right up until the moment that he died. I began to understand what it means to be alive until you die.
But I never fully understood the blessing until the moment I realized that I wasn’t about to die. So much of our lives fly by without us really being alive. So much of our lives are lived on autopilot. Our imaginations, our hopes and dreams are dulled into submission by the day to day tasks of getting by. But we are indeed all going to die!
No wonder we need a holiday, a holy day to remind us to pay attention. Miracles are happening all around us, and in us, each and every moment. We ought not to need or wait until we find ourselves in distress to remember the multitude of blessings, we enjoy each and every day. We live and move and have our being in the midst of the ONE who is the SOURCE of ALL BEING. Creation is the outpouring of the SOURCE. The splendors that nourish, ground, and sustain us in the blessed life of our, come from the LOVE that is the SOURCE of ALL BEING. Every brightly coloured leaf, each magnificent sunrise and glorious sunset is a miracle beyond our comprehension. Each and every breath we take is a miracle. Pay attention and you will discover beauty, truth, and goodness beyond our wildest dreams. This is the kind of nourishment that can sustain us in the face of whatever may come our way.
Our gratitude for the great fullness of our lives is only the beginning of what it means to be alive. It is not enough to simply be grateful for all that we have all that we will receive. Our gratitude for the reality that our cups are filled to overflowing with blessings leads us to thanksgiving. Gratitude is the feeling and thanksgiving is the action that results from the feeling. So, on this holy day of thanksgiving, our only concern should be the form of action our thanks will take. In gratitude for all our many blessings how will we respond with thanksgiving. It is not enough for us to luxuriate in the wellspring of good feelings of gratitude and then go back to our regular routine.
Living our lives on autopilot is not living it is existing. Gratitude for life requires our full attention. So, let us enjoy the grateful emotions of this holy day. Let us luxuriate in praise and gratitude to the ONE who IS WAS and ever more SHALL BE. Then let us express our gratitude with action, the kind of action that flows from gratitude, the action of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving also requires our full attention. Thanksgiving is all about being filled with gratitude fully alive, fully engaged, then responding to the blessings that are flowing in and around us. Giving thanks moves us beyond expressing our gratitude. Giving thanks takes all sorts of forms. Giving thanks is a way of being in this one blessed life that comes to us as pure gift.
So, may you be alive until you die! This gift of life is yours! Live it. For God is the source of life, so, worship God by living. God is the source of love, so, worship God by loving. God is the ground of being, so, worship God by having the courage to be more fully human; for you are the embodiment of the DIVINE. Thanks be to God the ONE who IS, WAS and ever more shall be the SOURCE of ALL that IS. May you be alive until you die!