Paul Elisha: Gratitude

Dec 24, 2013

This disgruntled commentator, increasingly discontent with a Federal Legislature seemingly unwilling to overcome personal differences in political bias, to create a climate of cooperation for the benefit of national well-being found himself ill-tempered, at the outset of the most festive time of the year, just as one of his closest friends phoned to wish him ‘all-the-best.’  This embarrassed him greatly, because the friend was a ‘saintly sinner,’ who’d overcome a variety of social, chemical and physical set-backs, to become a ‘true believer,’ and an exemplary human being.  Now, here was I, grousing at a variety of physical aches and pains and complaining about the imperfect social milieu by which I was surrounded.  After a moment of silence, my friend cleared his throat and answered: “Ya’know what?  You’re not grateful enough.”

Several days have passed since we spoke but his response has stubbornly remained on my mind.  Those of us who critique the behavior and statements of individuals, in special circumstance and official capacities among us, make special efforts to analyze and rate their words and deeds, believing their responsibilities urge us to demand more from them and we expect their responses to meet our standards.  The eminent Dr. Samuel Johnson described our expectations thus:  “Gratitude,” he noted, “is a fruit of great cultivation; you do not find it among gross people.”

Since we live in a nation whose citizenry is drawn from many geographic and ethnic locales, the boundaries of which encircle a myriad of beliefs and religious practices, this commentator makes a special effort to observe ecumenical equality, on the air, showing respect for members of each religious group.  Just this once, though, because of its humanity and universality, he has singled out the words of the widely read and respected Jewish writer, Isaac Bashevis Singer, on the subject of gratitude, in a reference from his Nobel Prize acceptance lecture, in Stockholm, on December 8th, 1978.  “There’s a quiet humor in Yiddish,” he said, “and a gratitude for every day of life, every crumb of success; each encounter of love.”  It was Singer’s view, that: “In a figurative way, Yiddish is the wise and humble language of us all, the idiom of a frightened and hopeful humanity.”  Because we all know of the suffering and pain to which he referred and the gentle, humorous antidotes he contributed in response, there’s a universal combination of fear and hope we can all share.

This commentator now understands the full import of his ‘saintly’ friend’s admonition, that he wasn’t grateful enough.  One glance at the many around us, worse off and struggling just to ‘make it,’ should arm us with greater impetus, to support such simple demands as the right to ‘a living wage,’ and a Congressional return to a legislated right, not just to join a labor union but to collective bargaining, for a fair wage, for work delivered. As Samuel Johnson also wisely said:

“This mournful truth is everywhere confessed---Slow rises worth, by poverty depressed.”