Gratitopia


I’d like to take you on an imaginary trip today. I think we all need to get out of here and imagine a life free of pettiness, disappointment and clawing selfishness.

Now, I’m not at all interested in utopia (from the Greek, eu=good, top=place); Sir Thomas More first coined the term in 1516 in his book by the same name. He wanted what we all want; a peaceful, secure society in which everything moves smoothly.

Unfortunately all attempts (fictional or actual) to create a utopia have ended in death and destruction – John the Savage hanging from the lighthouse at the end of Brave New World, or the horror that was the Soviet Union, which, for the “greater good,” starved 30 million people. Given man’s unending twistedness, utopias inevitably become dystopias (dys from the Greek – bad, ill).

The problem with More’s approach is that it depended on outside systems to arrange the copacetic conditions he dreamed of, and outside systems always depend on outside force which means that people die. What I propose is internal and dependent on no one but our selves. After all, that’s all we can really control. 

I’ve been reading an amazing book entitled Choosing Gratitude by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and it has me thinking – what would America look like if we were still a grateful nation – if a large percentage of us quit complaining and spent our thinking time in a state of praise and thanksgiving?  Let’s imagine…
           
We’d hear a lot less whining about anyone’s “fair share.” We’d be so glad that we live in a land where there’s an opportunity to get rich that we would begrudge no one his success.

Years ago my brilliant son-in-law had a chance, through MIT where he was doing his graduate work, to go to Northern Pakistan, high in the Himalayas, to study insulation possibilities for the homes of people living in inaccessible mountain villages. The people there subsisted mostly on bad goat meat and dried apricots, sheltered by precarious mud and stone houses.

One family was considered rich. The father made $45 a month and lived in the nicest house in the village - a two-room cinder-block building – a house that kept him and his wife and six children at a cozy 42 degrees in the winter.

By comparison, everyone in America is wealthy. Our poor have cars, and heating, and hot and cold running water, and refrigerators, and microwaves, and electric stoves, and televisions, and cell phones. This Pakistani family – this rich family – had never even had their picture taken. They were thrilled when my son-in-law shot a family portrait and in gratitude, they sent him home with two caps for his children – caps they couldn’t afford to part with.

Imagine never having pictures of your children.

If we lived in gratitude we wouldn’t be demanding free anything. We’d see a job – any job – as something to be thankful for.  We wouldn’t be begging for free birth control, or free housing, or free college. We’d be humbly grateful for a chance to work our way through school, not whining in front of Congress about how hard it is to keep from getting pregnant.

Families would coalesce, thankful to each other and thankful to God for providing such benevolent support. Husbands would thank wives, wives husbands; it’s hard to destroy a marriage each partner is grateful for.

Grateful children would come to school to lap up the learning offered them. Many more teachers would be thankful for such a meaningful profession.

And grateful people are not criminals. Living in appreciation and thanksgiving is not a suitable foundation for breaking into houses or jacking cars -- it would take all the fun out of it. Our entire justice system could breathe a sigh of relief.

Grateful people are motivated people, eager to be of assistance to those around them. Grateful people are willing to work hard because they don’t think anyone owes them anything – they feel they’ve already been paid. Grateful people aren’t arrogant and self-involved; being grateful requires recognizing the existence and efforts of others.

Most importantly, being grateful necessitates recognizing God. I’m amazed every November– all of us, even the atheists, gather together and eat too much and call it Thanksgiving. To whom are the atheists giving thanks? I’ve been puzzled about that for years. How can we be angry with God – as I find most atheists are – when He has given us everything we have? What health we have, what intelligence we have, what opportunities we have, even our very existence? (Not to mention that it makes no sense to deny His existence because you hate Him.)

Add to that His sacrifice on the cross for our eternal salvation and I find myself flabbergasted, astounded, speechless. Grousing is hard to do in the face of a glorious, ecstatic eternity.

And gratitude can be purposely practiced, can be our chosen attitude, our modus operandi, our reason d’etre. We can, as we face each day’s challenges, decide to go on gratitude hunts – what can we be thankful for? The spiritual strength we’re developing as we deal with cancer? The warm and encouraging smile from check-out girl at Safeway? A compliment from a friend?

Each single moment we are surrounded by blessings – soaked in them. Beauty is everywhere. Love is everywhere. A good laugh is always available – even when the only thing to laugh at is our self.

Today my husband and I drove home through a forest of pitch pine and Douglas firs, tall as ten-story buildings. We crossed the roaring Rogue River, turned at the base of snow-capped Mt. Thielsen, so craggy and pointed it looks like Smaug lives in its innermost caverns. The sun was finally out, warming the car and the little brown dog on my lap. We listened to Andrew Lloyd Webber and drank iced coffee. Is that not enough to make anyone supremely happy?  The problem of not enough vanishes completely at the sound of “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Thank you for coming with me on the tour.