THE ABCs OF ENLIGHTENMENT Part 7: Gratitude

GRATITUDE   Expressions of gratitude, things like thank-you notes, are considered signs of good breeding. I think I may have written one, maybe two, during my entire life. They also seem to be more of an activity for the leisure class and a girl thing, too. (I’m sure that if I were married my wife […]

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GRATITUDE

 
Expressions of gratitude, things like thank-you notes, are considered signs of good breeding. I think I may have written one, maybe two, during my entire life. They also seem to be more of an activity for the leisure class and a girl thing, too. (I’m sure that if I were married my wife would make me write them. Or would write them and make me sign them.) And in this regard we can imagine a Grand Duchess in some costume drama seated at her secrétaire in her silk and gold embroidered housecoat, penning proper little perfumed notes in her exquisite cursive and handing them off to her lady’s maid while the Grand Duke is off being rugged, chasing around a helpless little fox with a pack of wild dogs and an arsenal of WMD, while a crew of hundreds of dirty little men, red faced and on the verge of collapse, runs along behind trying to keep up. But who, these days, has the time or especially the resources for any of this?
 

A Hilarious Southern Comedian

 
I saw an interview the other day with Larry the Cable Guy, a hilarious Southern comedian whom I must confess I really enjoy—though being a Northerner (and his jokes being about things like fat people and farts) supposedly I should not—during which he was asked how he now likes playing big arenas and making $100,000 per night as opposed to the few hundred dollars a week he used to make working dives. A ridiculous question of course, and at first Larry was like, “A-duh, what do you think?” but then, “I feel really thankful, of course,” and I felt a sense of relief. He was not just a lowlife, I thought, and I could feel less guilty about watching his performances. Though I can’t promise you I could have stopped myself, regardless.

That we consider thankfulness (gratitude) an elevated condition is interesting; that an ungrateful person would be considered boorish, from the Dutch word for peasant, while a grateful one would be thought to be gracious (according to Oxford, “to exhibit high social status”) would seem to suggest a commonly held belief that to experience, and especially express, gratitude is something noble.

There is a popular quote, “There but for the grace of God go I,” attributed to one John Bradford, a Protestant, imprisoned in 1554 by Queen Mary Tudor of England—also known as “Bloody Mary” (a Roman Catholic who, though she would only reign for five years, thank God, still managed to burn close to three hundred “nonbelievers” at the stake). And reportedly uttered through the bars of his jail cell while watching one of his fellow heretics being led off to their own custom-designed rotisserie. Then, just a few months later, in January 1555, he was also barbecued.

Thanksgiving Ingredients

via Pixabay.com


 

Thank God I Wasn’t On That Plane

 
And this is the kind of gratitude we can all relate to: the “thank God I wasn’t on that plane” type. (I felt that way after 9/11 as I used to service the pianos at Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center, where all perished that day.) It is also similar, though perhaps to a less graphic degree, to the sentiment that we express each year at Thanksgiving (or are supposed to since that’s what the occasion is about—not, believe it or not, stampedes at shopping malls): “Thank God that, unlike most of the rest of the world, those of us gathered here today are not starving to death.”

Many so-called primitive cultures not only offer gratitude to God before their meals in this same way but also to the spirits of the creatures or even the plants that they are about to consume. I’m sure that if you asked for permission to say a prayer along those lines at your next family Thanksgiving you’d be quite the topic of conversation, especially as everyone traveled back home: “What the hell was that?! ‘The soul of the unwitting turkey.’ Well, there was more than one turkey in the room this year! It was so embarrassing! We can’t let that happen again! No more prayers, ever!”

Gratitude Otter

 

A Higher State of Awareness

 
Gratitude is essentially a higher state of awareness. At its most basic level it takes the form of a Thanksgiving-style recognition of what the world has given us in order that we might live; understands that other living things have sacrificed, suffered, or even died on our behalf. Then beyond this there is a level of thankfulness called unconditional gratitude to God, whether material blessings have come our way or not, or in the extreme, despite the fact that we have suffered or are suffering unbearably.

This work is subtitled, “A mystical primer” (which means an introduction) so we will leave that category alone for now. For it would require an entire other volume to explain in a convincing way how a saint, especially, could endure unremitting torment and yet be overflowing, almost to the point of bursting, with gratitude to God.

“You fool,” others (like Queen Mary, for example) might say, “how can you be grateful to a God who would do this to you?”(Of course, she is the one actually doing this to you!).
 
 
Look for the next topic, Hope, next week! Can’t wait to until then to read more? Order The ABCs ofThe ABCs of Enlightenment cover Enlightenment: A Mystical Primer today.

 

Jeffrey BakerJeffrey Baker was a student for more than forty years of Sri Chinmoy, who named him Kalatit (Kal, time; atit, beyond). Called “our preeminent humorist” by his teacher, he was a frequent contributor to publications and events in his spiritual community and elsewhere. A card-carrying Baby Boomer, he attended the Woodstock Festival, performed in various rock-and-roll ensembles, and has a degree in ecology from The University of Connecticut. He’s been a gardener for the Rockefellers in Pocantico Hills, New York, and “the piano tuner to the stars” working with artists such as Billy Joel, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Richard Goode and Andre Previn. He has composed more than one hundred works in the classical as well as the theatrical genres. (https://www.reverbnation.com/jeffreybaker) His The Music of the Zodiac, has had more than 40,000 downloads. His corpus of philosophical treatises, Eat My Dust, Martin Luther, as well as a collection of epigrams, 1000 Pearls of Wisdom, and a group of essays on contemporary subjects, Blah, Blah, Blah, are available as e-books (Amazon) and in paperback (Createspace).

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THE ABCs OF ENLIGHTENMENT Week 4: Death

As the years went by, great-grandpas and great-grandmas and then regular old grandpas and grandmas, would grow feeble and go on…

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DEATH

Unless you grew up in Rwanda, Afghanistan, or Iraq, the things that were dying all around you when you were young—the parakeets, hamsters, little green turtles, or especially goldfish—all shared the characteristic of being easily replaced at the Five and Dime (now, due to inflation, the 99 Cents Store). Until your first dog died, that is.

I remember mine, Tippy—who I wasn’t even aware was sick, although my mom later insisted that she was very sick, and really old as well—lying motionless at the bottom of the stairs, while I watched from above, still in my pajamas, as her lifeless body was carried away by my irritated dad (this was making him late for work).

The Natural Course of Things

As the years went by, great-grandpas and great-grandmas and then regular old grandpas and grandmas, would grow feeble and go on to their rewards but with the exception of the crazy kid in high school who drove his car into a tree at ninety miles an hour, the natural course of things prevailed. (Recently, near where I live, in the very wealthy community of Greenwich, Connecticut, some rich-guy dad who wanted to make his son the envy of the high school parking lot gave the lad a new Corvette for his sixteenth birthday, with the predictable result that he, and even more tragically, his young girlfriend, careened off the road and were killed.)

Then in your 60s, where I now find myself, the Grim Reaper visits more frequently as some of your contemporaries, who otherwise seemed perfectly healthy, even fit, are struck down by a heart attack or an aneurism or cancer or something and it sure starts to seem like death, while maybe not having your number on its speed dial just yet, does seem more and more just a phone call away.
 
Flowered Field
 
I began writing this essay, arbitrarily I thought, on December 6, 2006, only to remember that it was three years before, to the day, that I lost one of my dearest friends to breast cancer. She had been diagnosed at the age of forty and did miraculously well for sixteen years, during which time, believe it or not, not only her sole sister but her mother, too, succumbed to the very same disease. (Her father had passed away many years before, of a heart attack, in her arms, on stage. She was a concert pianist and he, a concert violinist.) I was with all these women until just a few hours, even a few minutes, before the end. Meaning that for roughly five years of my recent life I was in the position of seeing three people whom I was very fond of “shuffle off this mortal coil.”

A Veritable Symphony of Death

My friend’s mother had grown up in Ukraine in the 1930s at a time when

Stalin had collectivized their farms and exported all their crops back to Russia, which by 1935 had led to death by starvation of over one-quarter of the population, including an estimated three million children. She had also been an operative in the Ukrainian underground during both the German and Russian occupations of World War II where, in a veritable symphony of death, the Germans had first come and killed all the Russians and their alleged sympathizers, then the Russians had come back and killed all the Germans and their alleged sympathizers, along with untold numbers of Ukrainians and their alleged sympathizers. (Not a good time to be sympathetic.) Consequently, she had the most cavalier approach to the whole business of dying of anyone I have ever met; so much so that on the first day that it became necessary for me to carry her to the bathroom she proclaimed, in her wonderfully thick Slavic accent, “That’s enough of this shit,” and left “This Bitter Earth” (the great name of a bar in Harlem) later that night.
 
Angel
 
My friend’s younger sister’s passing (thankfully, after her mom’s, who, no matter how tough, would not have been able to endure it), being premature, was more tragic. A wonderful and very successful singer, with one of the loveliest voices I had ever heard, and with a four-year-old son as well, she valiantly struggled to keep going, even to keep performing, but due to a brain metastasis finally collapsed and could not leave her bed. On the day before she passed she told me that three angels had come to her and told her that it was time and she had told them that she was ready. She departed with the next sunrise on a bright and beautiful April morning just days before her forty-fifth birthday. (Aptly, her Ukrainian name was Kvitka, which means flower.)

In the same way that the setting for her sister’s passing was in keeping with her nature, so was my friend’s, but unlike her sister’s spring, she enjoyed the winter, and so her last day brought a freak and furious blizzard that made it just about impossible for her two daughters and me to get to the hospital. Later, when leaving, though she was already comatose, I told her that I would be back to see her the next day and she managed a very sweet smile that told the whole story. The hospital called a few minutes later, while we were in the car “sledding” back home, to say that she had expired.
 
Cornflower Ladybug
 

A Few General Observations About Death

Therefore, while no expert, I do feel qualified, based on these recent experiences, to make a few general observations about death.

Job one for each of us is to fight for life until the very end, out of respect and especially gratitude to the One who has given us life. Then when any further participation in the goings-on here is impossible, our souls begin a process that they are very familiar with and prepare to return to their own abode. This is something absolutely sacred.

One more thing, on a practical level, that I feel I must share. As the energy available to our bodies diminishes, functions that are less essential for sustaining our physical existence begin to shut down. But hearing, for some reason, even after mobility, speaking, seeing and just about every other thing is lost, seems to remain active. Therefore, one should not stand around the “unconscious” loved one chatting and gossiping as if there was no one there, something I have seen many times, especially in hospices. For while it is understandable that you might be nervous about the thing in your midst, the eight-hundred-pound gorilla in the room, loud and boisterous gatherings as if getting together for a Super Bowl party are really uncalled for. Even the apes show their dying more respect. So please, take your chitchat and especially your bluster down the hall.

To Make Life More Precious

Life after death, even if you believe those who say they have been and come back, remains a matter of faith; like when someone goes to a great vacation spot and while we have no reason to doubt their glowing report, we cannot be absolutely certain it lives up to all the hype until we go there ourselves.

A character on Six Feet Under, a popular TV comedy set in a mortuary (talk about a contradiction), when asked, “Why death?” simply answered, “to make life more precious”—probably the least speculative, most insightful thing that anyone has ever had to say about the whole mysterious business.
 

Featured Pic  by Vladimir Menkov – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, License

 
Look for the next topic, Enlightenment, next week! Can’t wait to until then to read more? Order The ABCs ofThe ABCs of Enlightenment cover Enlightenment: A Mystical Primer today.

 

Jeffrey BakerJeffrey Baker was a student for more than forty years of Sri Chinmoy, who named him Kalatit (Kal, time; atit, beyond). Called “our preeminent humorist” by his teacher, he was a frequent contributor to publications and events in his spiritual community and elsewhere. A card-carrying Baby Boomer, he attended the Woodstock Festival, performed in various rock-and-roll ensembles, and has a degree in ecology from The University of Connecticut. He’s been a gardener for the Rockefellers in Pocantico Hills, New York, and “the piano tuner to the stars” working with artists such as Billy Joel, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Richard Goode and Andre Previn. He has composed more than one hundred works in the classical as well as the theatrical genres. (https://www.reverbnation.com/jeffreybaker) His The Music of the Zodiac, has had more than 40,000 downloads. His corpus of philosophical treatises, Eat My Dust, Martin Luther, as well as a collection of epigrams, 1000 Pearls of Wisdom, and a group of essays on contemporary subjects, Blah, Blah, Blah, are available as e-books (Amazon) and in paperback (Createspace).

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