Prodigal son

I feel a bit like the prodigal son, returning “home” to this site after a long absence.

In the Biblical story, the prodigal son returns after wasting his inheritance. In my case, I return reminded that if gratitude is to continuously uplift my spirit and outlook, it needs to be a habit and treated as a discipline. Otherwise it gets lost in the blur of the passing days.

My reminder came courtesy of Rev. Kim Crawford Harvie, who delivered a sermon on blessings and gratitude, including the benefits of keeping a daily gratitude list, at the Arlington Street Church in Boston last Sunday. You can read her inspiring sermon and see if it motivates you, too.

In addition to Kim Crawford Harvie’s moving reminder, last weekend included many blessings worth savoring:

  • Enjoying a long-overdue reunion with our minister from our time in Dallas. She married Lori and me and dedicated our two children.
  • Staying with her and her husband just across from the Boston Common, pretending to live in the heart of Boston and imagining the incredibly rich history that played out within steps of our doorstep.
  • Appreciating the unseasonably warm temperatures and clear, sunny skies.

Looking out over the Boston Public Garden shortly after sunrise

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I went downtown this morning to watch the Memorial Day parade. I thought it appropriate, even necessary, to commemorate the service of so many men and women who have worn the uniform and taken the oath to defend the country and the U.S. Constitution. Tears welled in my eyes several times, especially seeing parade watchers who — no doubt — have proudly served their country and don’t miss an opportunity to show it.

While I feel I have worked hard to earn what I have, I also recognize that I live a very privileged life, afforded many opportunities so easily taken for granted. Were it not for the men and women who defend my liberty, whether in theory or practice, I might not be so fortunate.

Decades ago, my uncle served in the Pacific during World War II. My mother supported the war, moving from Reno to work in the shipyards in Oakland.

This week, we learned that the 1,000th soldier was killed in Afghanistan. The toll since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 is some 4,400. Almost 37,500 have been injured in both theaters, which may be a low number considering under-reported traumas such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Many service men and women have done multiple tours through Iraq and Afghanistan, in some cases both parents leaving children with relatives.

Sacrifice. Every one who enlists and takes the oath makes a personal sacrifice in order to defend the ideals of liberty and freedom. Some make the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives. I am grateful for and thank you for your service and devotion.

May we, the citizens of these United States, prove worthy of your sacrifice.

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Perfect spring day

Spring DayIndeed, it was a wonderful spring day in the neighborhood, Mr. Rogers &#151 sunny and warm.

And an unexpected gift.

Planning to be in Europe all next week, I expected to spend a manic weekend packing and catching up around here, after being on the west coast much of last week. Late Thursday, starting to stress, I recognized that I didn’t have to go to Europe, that I should tend to the more pressing priorities at work and couldn’t afford to lose a week traveling.

Friday morning I pulled the plug, canceled my reservations, apologized to my co-workers whom I was to accompany, and shifted my focus to those more pressing priorities.

That decision allowed me to awaken this morning to a day of relaxed and infinite possibility, especially with my family in Florida. Just the dog and me. Both of us took advantage of the beautiful weather for walks, I wrote two blog postings, and I finished migrating this blog from Blogger to WordPress (not a pretty process but I’m basically there — assuming you’re reading these words).

It’s also nice to officially express gratitude after an absence of some four months. Not that I’ve been ungrateful. Just lousy spiritual discipline.

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Thanksgiving TurkeyThanksgiving is my favorite holiday and, true to the name, a time of reflection and gratitude.

While the holiday’s historic significance is the Pilgrim’s celebration of the first harvest in Plymouth Colony, my attachment stems from a tradition of family gathering and bountiful food. As I’ve grown older, the words of free-lance writer Robert Brault have become increasingly true:

Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.

You can hear my musings on Thanksgiving by playing this selection using the player (below).

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Music: Butterfly Dreams, David Modica, from

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The week’s list

This week’s tweets of gratitude:

Monday — I am grateful for the insight and inspiration of poetry, “arguing” with my daughter and wife about whose favorite poem is best.

Tuesday — After tonight’s school concert, I am grateful for public school music teachers, who introduce our children to the most accessible of arts and create beauty in song.

Wednesday — I am grateful for the men and women who leave their families to serve our country in distant and often dangerous lands.

Thursday — This morning I am thankful for this view: the sun rising from the Atlantic, Cape Cod almost touchable below. Imagining the Mayflower 389 years ago.

Friday — I am grateful for the opportunity to break bread with international colleagues and learn about their lives.

Saturday — I am grateful thatI will sleep in my own bed tonight, probably with the “pup” stretched out alongside my leg.

Today — I am grateful to have found a buyer for my grandfather’s home. This will close a long, long chapter of family history.

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Daily dose

Kristen Munson writes a blog called The Grateful Project, where each day she notes something in her life for which she is grateful. She explains how the blog came to be here, which includes this excerpt:

This action of pausing to consider what I am truly grateful for each day is an exercise I have repeated each day since. Because every day something happens to be thankful for. Every day. Even the days your heart winds up on the bottom of someone else’s shoes.

Kristen’s posts are short and often moving, especially when noting the ordinary. That’s the aha. We become desensitized to the ordinary, rather than seeing the extraordinary blessings.

I have much the same motivation as Kristen — if not her disciplined regularity. Gratitude is part of my spiritual practice, a means to keep centered and a principle for living a meaningful life.

Earlier this week, I saw the following on Kim Steele’s Facebook page, apparently a so-called trending topic:

Let’s see how many people can do this. Every day this month until Thanksgiving, think of one thing that you are thankful for and post it as your status. “Today I am thankful for…”

Inspired first by Kristen, then by Kim, I’ve adopted the practice, tweeting my expressions for the past several days.

Texas dawnTuesday — Today I am thankful for airplanes, enabling us to travel and see the world.

Wednesday — Today I am grateful for a run through the cool and quiet morning, rewarded by a stop at Starbucks.

Thursday — This morning I am thankful for my daughter Andrea, who is being inducted into the National Honor Society tonight.

Friday — I am grateful for the ability to see, to see color, to see the dawn of a new day. (Inspired by the photo.)

Later in the day — An extra dose of gratitude today: I made my connection in PHL with barely minutes to spare, yet enough to have dinner with my family.

Saturday — I am grateful for renewing friendships: life stories, shared memories, laughter and food. Creating new memories.

Let’s see how long I can keep this going…

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Finding gratitude amidst grief

Sunday — What a beautiful late fall afternoon, this first day of November. The leaves left on the trees – surprisingly quite a few – are now a burnt orange against a backdrop of blue sky and white wispy clouds. The car thermometer shows an unseasonably warm 60 degrees as I pull out of the driveway, the image of Grant raking leaves in the rear-view mirror.

No traffic delays the drive into Boston, no lines slow my passage through airport security, both benefits of flying Sunday afternoon, when most business travelers are home watching football. The downside is losing part of the weekend. How many weekends are in a life?

Today I feel a wistful sense of time.

I love to fly. I mean as a passenger, not a pilot. Despite the cramped seats, crowds, waiting, delays, and lack of hospitality, I can always rekindle a childlike amazement at this big metal bird sustaining itself at 39,000 feet and, even more, the ability to travel from one side of the country to the other in a mere 6 to 8 hours. When I lament that a flight is taking unbearably long, I try to recall that just 150 or so years ago, this journey lasted months and was fraught with dangers. During that era of covered wagons and railroads, no one could have imagined that we would crisscross the country in hours, barely paying attention to the awesome sight of the sprawling landscape below.

The experience of my generation is that normal is the norm, life is routine, often boring. Extreme sports and reality TV were invented to make it more exciting. We expect virtually no risk in our lives: no planes crash, the power doesn’t goes out, diseases are prevented, what illness invades our bodies is cured. When something out of the ordinary does occur, a commission or government agency determines the cause to prevent future occurrences.

So foreign the concept, I have to visualize that not that long ago, life was much harsher. Disease was common. It often killed people. Children died at or within a few years of birth. Mothers died giving birth. Longevity was more the exception than the norm.

I wonder how such uncertainty affected our forebear’s sense of gratitude. Could the experience of more frequent loss have instilled a deeper appreciation for the seemingly simple and basic gifts of life?

Tuesday — What is the relationship between grief and gratitude? I’ve been pondering that for several days now, since hearing tragic news. A mom, just 52, has a sudden stroke, leaving her husband and two teenage boys – the same age as my two children – with a lifetime void that’s hard to comprehend. The horror of their loss is visceral, a lump in my chest.

With no rational reason to explain why death happens nor to relieve the sadness, I wonder if there can be solace through gratitude. Gratitude for the days I am given, the people who love me, the glimpses of beauty that too easily fade into the background blur of the routine and the rush.

As the plane begins to descend into Boston, returning me from my cross-country journey, my gaze lingers on the sun splashed cloud peaks, the shadows forming below in the waning afternoon sun.

This is not routine I tell myself. It’s an incredible mystery and miracle. I have the privilege of being a witness, a participant.

After another routine landing and inconsequential drive home through evening traffic, my hugs are a bit more intentional.

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Gratitude as Spiritual Practice

Here’s a wonderful article about practicing gratitude from

This morning I went to the uuworld site looking for another article, previously read, and, as usually happens when web surfing, found something unexpected and interesting. In this case, compelling.

Gratitude is core to my concept of living a meaningful life. While I would say I am inherently grateful, I want my gratitude to be an intentional, disciplined, and regular spiritual practice, so that it’s never far from my consciousness.

Writing this blog is one way to be intentional, disciplined, and regular — and you can see how regular I’ve been! As the uuworld article states so well:

Perhaps most insidious to our sense of gratitude is the great demon, busyness. There are times when we simply get too busy to notice all the wonderful things and people and relationships around us. Because it is so easy to get revved up to such a pitch that we neglect to notice our gratitude, it is best to find ways to make gratitude a routine.

raindrops on maple, loriEach day offers the gift to begin anew, so on this quiet and rainy Saturday morning, the coolness of the air hinting fall, I am pausing to intentionally practice gratitude.

I am grateful for the life of Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Only since his diagnosis with brain cancer and recent death, have I had the opportunity to see beyond the tag of liberal icon and understand and appreciate the impact of his life. More significant than his legislative achievements, I’ve been moved by the stories of his caring. That a man with such an overwhelming schedule would always take the time to personally reach out and show care and compassion is a model of humanity we should all aspire to.

I am grateful for a road trip with my son earlier this month. We had fun and deepened our relationship, the concentrated time together letting me see the young adult he is becoming.

I am grateful for my mother, who was such a wonderful friend and influence in my life. Three years ago, on August 27, she passed away.

I am grateful for this quiet morning, affording time for contemplation. Cool enough for the windows to be open, the sound of the rain falling on the leaves and flowing through the gutter is calming.

Life is good.

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