Learning from Laughter: Gratitude as the only Resistance to Greed

gratitudeBy Lydia Wylie-Kellermann

Last March, Isaac joined us in a circle with eight college students having just completed a week long immersion trip in Detroit. We sat in the dark passing a candle around naming gratitudes for the week. The candle traveled around the circle again and again as the room filled with the realization of abundance in the relationships and the learning. Isaac sat quietly, on the eve of his second birthday, watching in awe and listening and waiting patiently for his turn to hold the candle and name a gratitude. Each time he held the candle he smiled, looked around, and proudly named something….almost always it was for “playing trains.” But I was amazed that he got the concept and indeed named what he was grateful for.

This kid has continued to be filled with gratitude. He says thank you all the time! Isaac and I have been working in the backyard stacking wood for the winter and each time I hand him a log he says “Thank you mommy.” And I can’t help but say it right back repeating it with each piece of wood. A couple months ago, we sat down to dinner, and before we held hands to sing a prayer, out of the blue he said “Thank you for cooking dinner mama.” That may just have been his first complete sentence! Damn, I am a lucky mother. This kid is an amazing reminder of the constant goodness and gratitude in our lives.

I wondered for a while where he was getting this, but then I started listening to the way Erinn and I talk to each other. We probably say thank you to each other twenty five times a day. Sometimes it is for changing a diaper or feeding the chickens or just for loving one another. Over and over and over again. We got in the habit of doing this early on.

The first year that Erinn and I dated we were long distance. I was living at Jonah House and she was doing Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Hartford, CT. One Sunday, Liz McAlister preached a sermon titled “Gratitude as the only Resistance to Greed.” She wondered aloud what the world would be like if we woke up each morning and before we did anything else named five things we were grateful for.

So, Erinn and I took that on as a practice. In the midst of a long, hard year apart, we emailed each other ten things we were grateful for every day. It was amazing. We found ourselves filled by them- both by naming our own and listening to the others. We learned things about our days that wouldn’t come up in a daily check-in- the color of leaves changing or a surprise lunch with a co-worker or the smell of cookies baking.

It was gift upon gift. One that then became habit. No matter how hard things are in our lives, gratitude is always present among us. It has been so integral to our relationship and I think has a lot to do with how strong our marriage is. I realize this may sound simple or obvious, but I don’t think it is. In a culture filled with greed, wants, search for praise, pain, and individualism at any cost…gratitude can go a long way. It can truly become an act of resistance that brings down the power of greed. It names our own interdependence and lack of being able to do it all and rather than feeling guilt- celebrates it and gives thanks. It honors the world and people around us. It sends us forth into the hard, hard work of justice but filled with an awareness of the goodness that is around us and drives us.

So, here again, I give thanks. I give thanks for Liz McAlister and her ever flowing wisdom and love. For Erinn and enormous joy and love she gives to our lives. For Isaac and his sense of gratitude and delight. For the gift of parenting him- the listening, learning, and awe I have each day. For getting to spend my life doing the hard work with the two of them. For a wide and deep community. For the beauty that surrounds us. For the ancestors who have brought us here. Indeed, my heart is filled and that can carry me a long way.

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