We’ve begun a new ritual around our dinner table in which each member of the family takes a minute or two to name what he or she has been grateful for. No matter how yucky our day has been, we try to offer our gratitude in the spirit of kindness and real thankfulness. Often, the ritual’s nicest effect is to calm the troops who may be feeling a bit rowdy or punchy. That’s on a good evening. Other times, well…
“Today,” said I one evening, trying to model appropriate behavior (usually a ludicrous pursuit), “I am thankful for the wonderful rain we had this afternoon, which watered all the trees and grass and flowers so they can grow.”
“Today,” said Daughter #1, “I am grateful for the rain and the trees and the flowers. And I am grateful for Mom and Dad and Sister and Brother and Dog.” (A not-so-subtle attempt at ingratiating herself, as her sly smile implied, but spoken with heartfelt emotion, nonetheless.)
“Today,” said Daughter #2, “I am grateful for Mom and Dad and Brother and Dog.” A smirk.
‘What?” Dad and Mom were stunned. “What about your sister?” Daughter #1 immediately recognized the implications of Daughter #2’s statement, which pointedly left her out. She burst into tears and ran from the table.
We continue to work on gratitude circles at our house. Some of us find it hard to be thankful when we would rather be angry. Sometimes even I (who like to consider myself closer to perfect than many) would rather give my husband a swift verbal kick than words of appreciation.
Yet, there is something sacred about our gratitude circles. Gratitude has a healing power at our table that is more tangible than forgiveness or even ice cream. We can’t honestly nourish a grudge at the same time that we nourish gratitude.
So we try. Daughter #1 came back to the table and we talked about forgiveness as well as gratitude, and we wondered aloud about pain and healing in words a child might be able to fathom.
And we grown-ups gave a silent sigh of gratitude for yet one more chance to do our job again and go on.