I didn't think this would be so difficult - these daily gratitudes.
I find myself more and more uncomfortable with the piling up of evidence how lucky I am - the small blisses, the huge blessings. I'm more and more ashamed of the abundance that more and more begins to feel like it's weighing me down - the intangibles as much as the plenitude of material goods.
(thank you, Roof's Safe Shelter - thank you, Patient Fritz - thank you, Democracy - thank you, Flowered Wallpaper - thank you, CD Player - thank you, Curiosity - thank you, Opportunity - thank you, Daughter Friend - thank you, Great-Grandma's Recipes - thank you, Trunks of Trees - thank you, Wonderstruck Ten-Year-Old - thank you, Health - thank you, Health Insurance - thank you, Hope in Christ)
All the goodness so unstintingly showered down on me. So undeservedly that I feel ashamed rather than grateful.
I can hear you already, jumping in to set me straight. Bear with me. I know I'm wrong, I know I've got this tangled, but I want to figure out why.
Last week at the food bank (I had biked in that morning composing in my head an exuberant Ode to Joy - thank you, Sunshine; thank you, Muscles; thank you, Thoughtful Driver; thank you, Flutter of Birds), I scrubbed down walls and sanitized freezers and fridge for the quarterly inspection in between waiting on a regular stream of the needy. We had the radio on, playing happy Christmas music.
"Bah, humbug," said a woman not much older than I. "Not much to be merry about when you don't have any money and can't buy anything to give your kids."
I could have said . . . or I could have pointed out . . . but I didn't.
I believe she'd have felt happier if she'd looked around right there and been glad for this clean, well-lighted place that existed just to help her, the loaves of bread on the shelves, the cheese sticks in the fridge, the sign-up for the hot dinner and gift for each child the local Boy Scout troop would deliver to her house (or other central location if she didn't have a house) on Christmas Eve. She would've felt more fortunate if she'd let her thoughts dwell on all the people who donated cans to feed her, the hours volunteering, fund-raising, the local gardeners who planted extra so we could offer her more.
But was it for me to tell her?
Maybe. Maybe it would've helped. I've heard other people make the point and make it effectively, compassionately. But I didn't. I felt I couldn't. Because she was right. It's hard to be merry in the face of poverty and hunger. If I'd been facing what she was facing I'm not sure I wouldn't have been bah-humbugging myself. Why not allow her bah humbugging space as a valid response to this world, this time of the year?
Before she came in I'd been humming inside with pleasure at the bike ride, the vigorously effective scrubbing, the music playing. After she spoke I stopped my silent happy humming. Which did her no good but allowed me to listen a little better to what she was saying.
I looked at her, beheld her, the sad skin beneath her eyes, the angry tightness around her mouth, the bad luck that hung about her like a cloud. I nodded and made a sympathetic sound and then fetched the frozen green beans and plastic-wrapped tube of ground beef that we give everyone.
Later, this weekend, we drove down to see my brother's new baby. Along the way, at the rest stop, we saw a family - man, woman, two children - camped out with a sign asking for money to buy more gas for their bus.