*Special thank you to my friend and singer/songwriter/musician Oona Love for serving as today’s guest writer for day 4 of the “28 days of love project.”*
The quality of being thankful, readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
That seems simple enough.
A few weeks ago, we celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr., at the small Episcopal Church I attend in Virginia. There is really nothing like a bunch of white folks trying to sing “We Shall Overcome” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” with an 80 plus year old organist, but it was lovely, all the same. The spirit was there if the “with feeling” was not. You cannot expect white middle and upper class Episcopalians to truly understand those songs. How can they grasp the oppression, the struggle, the pain, and the joyful hope through tears that those songs embody? Sure, there are some there who marched for freedom and stood on the Mall in Washington, D.C., who are moved by the power of Dr. King’s speech, but the music was a little lost on most.
I left that day with a sense of great joy and sadness. Joy that the struggle for civil rights for ALL people has come so far, but sadness that we have not yet achieved a society in which we are truly blind to color, gender, orientation, physical limitation, and image. There is so much more work to do. I was also sad to feel that some of the people around me had not embraced what the day was to have meant.
It was with all of that floating about in my head that I walked into the Kroger after church with my mother. I go to church with her, and then we either have lunch or stop by the market afterwards. I needed dog food and she needed cheese, so we made a quick stop. As we made our way through the aisles, I spotted a man who looked to be in his late sixties. He had a white ponytail pulled back from a receding hairline, kind eyes behind round silver rimmed glasses and a camel colored corduroy blazer with suede elbow patches. On the lapels of his blazer, he wore buttons with peaceful slogans. As, I passed by him, I was compelled to do one thing… to hug him. I left my mother standing with her cheese and followed him. I tapped him on the shoulder and said, “I’m sorry, but I am going to hug you.” I threw my arms around this man who embodied, in his energy and presence, everything I had missed about the morning. In my mind, he had walked alongside Dr. King. He had fought for civil liberties, and for one moment I was so grateful for this man that I had to embrace him because he erased all the sadness that was heavy in my heart.
A lot of people who know me personally would not be surprised by this random act of hugging in the Kroger; nor would they be surprised that in the moment of seeing this man, whom I did not know, I immediately had a story in my mind about what kind of person he is and what his past had been. I have often been told my imagination is far too vivid and that I do not live in reality, but those are topics for another time. What really matters is that I was grateful for this man, regardless if the story I had created in my mind was real or not. That one small moment of recognition was real to me, and I had an overwhelming sense of gratitude for him.
My mother, my poor mother, was mortified by this display of oddity in the Kroger. We encountered him, one more, as we were leaving, and she apologized to him for my weirdness, as she called it. He just laughed as her words tickled the Buddha inside of him. My heart was, again, full.
When I arrived home that afternoon, I described what had happened to a few of my closest friends. They, just by my description, knew the man with whom I had shared the moment. It turns out, the story in my head wasn’t that far off base. He is pioneer of the anti-death penalty movement, a social activist, unafraid to speak his personal truth, to speak for those without a voice, to stand for justice through peaceful means. What a blessing he is to this world and to me that day in the Kroger.
So, with that, I suppose, what I wanted to express is that we must not be afraid in moments of joyful gratitude to express them. In this world of negativity and judgment, I see people every day stifling the grateful, joyful, loving spirits they are because we are shaped to be what we are intrinsically not. We are not beings of anger, hatred, and selfishness. We come into this world as beings of pure love and joy. The experience of this world tarnishes that. So, I challenge you to find your spirit and let it shine with loving joy and gratitude for this life and the incredible spirits who share it with you.
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