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DAYS LIKE THIS

 

OPENING WORDS


WE come together this morning to
remind one another
To rest for a moment on the
forming edge of our lives,
To resist the headlong tumble
into the next moment,
Until we claim for ourselves
Awareness and Gratitude,
Taking the time to look into
one another’s faces
And see there communion: the
reflection of our own eyes.

This house of laughter
and silence, memory and hope,
is hallowed be our presence
together.


READINGS 

Jeanne Lohmann: "To Say Nothing But Thank You"

All day I try to say nothing but thank you,
breathe the syllables in and out with every step I
take through the rooms of my house and outside into
a profusion of shaggy-headed dandelions in the garden
where the tulips’ black stamens shake in their crimson cups.

I am saying thank you, yes, to this burgeoning spring
and to the cold wind of its changes. Gratitude comes easy
after a hot shower, when my loosened muscles work,
when eyes and mind begin to clear and even unruly
hair combs into place.

Dialogue with the invisible can go on every minute,
and with surprising gaiety I am saying thank you as I
remember who I am, a woman learning to praise
something as small as dandelion petals floating on the
steaming surface of this bowl of vegetable soup,
my happy, savoring tongue.

Billy Collins: "As If to Demonstrate an Eclipse"
from Nine Horses: Poems. © Random House, 2003.

I pick an orange from a wicker basket
and place it on the table
to represent the sun.
Then down at the other end
a blue and white marble
becomes the earth
and nearby I lay the little moon of an aspirin.

I get a glass from a cabinet,
open a bottle of wine,
then I sit in a ladder-back chair,
a benevolent god presiding
over a miniature creation myth and I begin to sing
a homemade canticle of thanks
for this perfect little arrangement,
for not making the earth too hot or cold
not making it spin too fast or slow

so that the grove of orange trees
and the owl become possible,
not to mention the rolling wave,
the play of clouds, geese in flight,
and the Z of lightning on a dark lake.

Then I fill my glass again
and give thanks for the trout,
the oak, and the yellow feather,

singing the room full of shadows,
as sun and earth and moon
circle one another in their impeccable orbits
and I get more and more cockeyed with gratitude.

MEDITATION

Anna Swir: "Priceless Gifts"

An empty day without events.
And that is why
it grew immense
as space. And suddenly
happiness of being
entered me.

I heard
in my heartbeat
the birth of time
and each instant of life
one after the other
came rushing in
like priceless gifts.

Let’s take a few moments to breath together in silence as
we think of the priceless gifts we have been given.

 

Reflections on Gratitude

Some time ago, before I moved to Northampton and showed up here, I was a school district administrator in NY.
I had a complicated job, so I didn’t like all of what I did. But what I loved was working with the mental-health teams
in the five schools, the guidance counselors, social workers and school psychologists. I guess maybe that partly
explains why I feel so comfortable in this community.

For about 15 years, and with teams whose memberships changed over the years, we dedicated ourselves to working
on research-based program proposals to get grant funding for programs for students who were at-risk because
of factors like having parents who were alcoholics, or using gate-way drugs, or experiencing traumatic events.
Although those kids--who in grants-speak--were our target population, often we targeted all students. The goal was to
increase resilience factors in our students’ lives wherever possible.

The school professionals and I were constantly reading and sharing research studies and asking each other if and
how we could translate what we learned into deliberate activities in the schools. We presented information at
teacher’s meetings and asked staff for their ideas. A lot of the teachers were really creative.
Some time in the 90s, someone on the mental health team became interested a number of studies about gratitude
conducted in the Universities of California, Miami, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.

In California and Miami, researchers collaborated on an experiment with about 400 participants who were asked to
keep a gratitude journal listing five things they were grateful for each day--a friend’s generosity, something they’d
learned, a sunset they enjoyed--just one sentence for each of the five things. Compared with a control group of
people who kept journals about everything that affected them, the people keeping the gratitude journal were more
optimistic and felt happier. They reported fewer physical problems and spent more time working out. Grateful people
with neuromuscular illnesses in a similar study fell asleep more quickly, slept longer and woke up feeling
more refreshed than those people in a control group.

Some English department members decided to try gratitude journals. Their students were journaling anyway, so
all the teachers had to do was ask those who wanted to participate in the Great Gratitude Experience to keep gratitude
lists instead of whatever they usually wrote. We collected information on all of the students at the end of the
school year, and guess what we found among the gratitude group? Fewer administrative referrals, better attendance,
improvements in grades. And on student surveys of both groups, the G-list students expressed a greater
feeling of over-all wellbeing than the students who went on journaling in their usual ways.

John Milton said that gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent
moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world. I think this is a small part of what
Lynne Marie Wanamaker talked about in her service, “Hardwired for Faith” last month.

Personally, I think I may be hardwired for faith, but I know that gratitude, awe, compassion, kindness and all those
good things we associate with living our UU principles have not always been my default settings. And if my default
settings have changed, that change more often than not has been the result of deliberate discipline and practice,
because somehow when I change some of my behaviors I change my heart and mind. When I change my
behavior I change my heart and mind. Shakespeare always says it best:


“Assume a virtue, if you have it not.
That monster, custom, who all sense doth eat,
Of habits devil, is angel yet in this,
That to the use of actions fair and good
He likewise gives a frock or livery
That aptly is put on."

One day ten years ago, I was just beginning to recover from cancer treatment. I was in the office still wearing
Thelma the wig and struggling to find meaning in my life. I wasn’t finding as much as I needed loving only about 50%
of my work, which--let’s admit--is not a passing score on any state assessment.

SO, I thought, maybe I should make a gratitude list. It worked for our kids, why not me? The things on that 1st
list were mostly things that didn’t happen, things from the It-Could-Be-Worse Department. Consider, for instance this
entry: It’s 90 degrees outside today, and I’m not wearing a burka. I could say this first G list was a failed experiment,
but it wasn’t. That was the day I began to imagine early retirement, a different kind of life and a different kind of G
list.

For me, early retirement is often at the top of my G lists. It is today. If I’d worked until retirement at age 62, I’d still be
working. I wouldn’t be here now with all of you. I wouldn’t have had seven years of finding how to be useful to this
community. Now it’s become effortless to make a daily gratitude list. That may sound odd coming from a person
living with the constraints of some physical challenges, but it’s a fact. It’s easy to make a G list. The hard part it
keeping this list down to only five entries.

Every day, I’m grateful to my dog, Watson--aka the Dear Boy, aka the Splendid Fellow. Among the many things I
love about him is that he keeps me in touch with the nuances of all four seasons. Our winter walks can be challenging,
but they’re often beautiful on an Ansel Adams morning when there’s fresh snow still sticking to the tree
limbs. In the other seasons, I thank him for getting me up and out early every morning to watch the progress of the
seasons on our bike-path walks.

There’s been a lot of Bike-Path gratitude this summer. Gail Gaustad had the idea for us to adopt a portion of it
with members of the Climate Action Group. As it happened, part of the section we’ve adopted is the part Watson
and I walk every morning. That path has never been so clean or looked so lovely. Now every morning I notice
the little wild asters and the Queen Anne’s lace instead of empty cans, discarded food wrappings, cigarette butts and
some things too vile to mention. I’m grateful for the work of our weekly bike-path teams.

When we’re out there with our green UU caps, people see us and they say “Thank you!” Raise your hand if you’re on
one of our teams. How many times have you been thanked? Or have you lost count?

On my gratitude list several days this summer has been the ways we get to know each other better by working together.
One Saturday, Michael Holroyde, Gil Billings and I were cleaning the path near Pleasant Street when we saw
the oddest thing off to the side of the path in the bushes. A pair of crutches. I said to the guys, “Doesn’t that seem
like something a person wouldn’t leave behind?” Without skipping a beat, Gil replied, “Maybe someone had a miracle.”
We all know Gil’s a great guy. He and Evelyn were the recipients of the Generosity of Spirit Award this year.
But that day I appreciated his ready wit and the experience went on the gratitude list.

You may think I’m confusing these remarks with a stewardship-season testimonial. It’s true that lots of non-
UU things make their way to my G lists, but something to do with being part of this community finds its way to my list
with satisfying regularity.

Here are the things on my G list for Thursday, July 31st, the day I’m finishing the edit of this reflection on Gratitude:


#1 It was another glorious day, slightly cloudy, temps in the high 70s. Watson and I had a very long walk. Nobody
in Veteran’s Field but us. I love the sight of Watson’s exuberance when I take off the leash and he runs across the
field chasing after his ball. Pure joy.

#2 Somehow I’ve kept a sensitive and delicate tropical plant, a Madagascar Jasmine, alive this summer on my
balcony. It’s scent is lovely. I sit here with my lap top and inhale it.

#3 I’ve got a ripe avocado waiting for my lunch.

#4 I worked a shift at the Cancer Connection this morning. I had the chance to say something helpful to someone
who is exactly where I was 10 years ago. She had the same deadly, invasive cancer I had, and because of the
down side to the internet, she knows she’s got a crap shoot of a chance to be living five years from now. But all
things considered, after a two-hour phone conversation in which I mostly said, Yep. Oh, yes, I know. Welcome to the
club. Uh huh... I could tell her that I she’s doing a lot better than she thinks she is. She’s doing a lot better than I did
at first. Of course the simple fact that I could say I marked my 10th anniversary this month was hugely encouraging. I
was grateful to have been the one who answered that phone call.

#5 I have a small life in a small home in a small city with a big social conscience that makes things like the Cancer
Connection and the Survival Center possible.

AND #6:There will be days like this. There will be days and days like this. There will be days when I say nothing
but thank you all day.


I’m pretty certain that my experience reflects what that research I spoke of earlier indicated. And when I think about
this, it seems to me that happiness might be more like a choice than a state of mind. Or as the wise Abe Lincoln
said, “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

I’d like to suggest you try making some G lists of your own. I have only one caveat. The absence of a negative
does not make a positive. And I think it would be total and complete bad karma to be grateful for a nanosecond that
you don’t live in Detroit or Gaza. But I don’t expect any of you to be tempted to do that. You’re better than that.

Just go about your day and notice what you have to be grateful for. Good luck with trying to stick to only five
things. I hope you get cock-eyed with gratitude.

 

BENEDICTION

The blessing of truth be upon us,
The power of truth be upon us and
sustain us,
and may the peace of this
community preserve our going
out and coming back in,
from this time forth, until we
meet again.

Go in peace.