Moving back to Brevard in May was a huge transition for our family of four. A significant aspect of that transition was my stepson Brooks (9) starting at a new school. At his school, class begins each day with a pledge of gratitude. Singing in the beautiful unison of off-key, 4th grade voices they shout:
We are thankful for the food we eat;
We are thankful for the world so sweet;
Please provide for those in need.
We are thankful for friends and family;
We are thankful for the birds that sing,
We are thankful for everything!
Unsurprisingly the idea of “Thankfulness” always pops in my head as I approach this time of year. What am I thankful for? Why should I be thankful? How do I express my gratitude? What can camp teach us about gratitude? These are the questions I find myself asking while chowing down on turkey and watching football on Thanksgiving. Maybe you do too?
To help answer these questions, over the years I’ve watched a number of different Ted talks with eye-catching titles like How Gratitude rewires your brain, Want to be happy? Be grateful!, or The Power of choosing Gratitude. These are all incredibly applicable for camp and some have even been featured during our staff orientation. But like anything, whether it be shooting a bow and arrow, throwing a pot, or rolling a kayak, it takes repeated practice to master gratitude. Intentionality and repetition over time lead us to live grateful lives. It’s what I see Brooks doing each morning in his class and what we have the opportunity to do as well.
Robin Wall Kimmerer in her book Braiding Sweetgrass speaks on the importance of practicing gratitude in her own indigenous tradition. Each day in the school of the Onondaga people in New York, they begin with what they call the “thanksgiving address.” Students take turns leading it, speaking some of the same each day, and also entering in their own individual perspective of things that they are uniquely thankful for.
She emphasizes the uniting force of gratitude. It seems that everyone can and should get behind the act of showing gratitude. After listening to a student proclaim his thankfulness for fruit, she writes “it seems hard to argue with gratitude for berries.” At Illahee, we could substitute berries for “Fried Chicken and Sunday Rolls.”
She writes also that “while expressing gratitude seems innocent enough, it is a revolutionary idea. In a consumer society, contentment is a radical proposition. Recognizing abundance rather than scarcity undermines an economy that thrives by creating unmet desires.”
As we dangerously enter this season of rapid consumerism, it’s a helpful reminder and challenge for us to be grounded in gratitude; For us to be thankful especially for the things that don’t come wrapped in plastic and sitting on a shelf:
- For these hills, forests, lakes, ponds, and rivers in which we get to play.
- For the rhododendron and oaks; the poplars and the maples providing shade, beauty, and fresh air.
- For the crisp spring water of the lake that cools us off on a hot July day.
- For the staff who choose to put others before themselves in the most enthusiastic, silliest, and kindest of ways.
- For the campers who love one another, making friendships that long outlive a session at camp.
- For the awe and joy experienced here.
- For the many amazing souls who work tirelessly to keep this special place going.
Or as Brooks might say “We are thankful for everything!”
Kimmerer concludes her chapter reminding us how “Gratitude cultivates an ethic of fullness.”
We have much to be thankful for at Illahee, and when I sit back and intentionally name them all, I cannot help but feel full.
Or maybe that’s just the turkey and the stuffing…
Happy Thanksgiving to all of our Illahee family!