One morning last week the sunrise was different than usual. I noticed it even before I left my darkened room. The shade above our bed was partially open, and through the small crack, I could tell that magic was happening outside. So, I hurried downstairs and pulled back the living room curtains. I was greeted by the most incredible scene, one almost impossible to describe in words.
Knowing how fleeting these moments of sunrise and sunset can be, I immediately went straight out to the front yard in my flannel pajamas. There, I would have the best vantage point to the enchanting sky; onlookers be damned. (Of course, it was relatively quiet out there at 5:50 AM.) The heavens were an unreal shade of rose and lavender, both soft and dramatic. Streaks of pink fluff wisped through an already pink sky, jet streams of some air force pilots on a morning flight.
A cold wind was blowing, echoing with a reassuring background hum that felt otherworldly. I was in a dream. Or on another planet.
It felt miraculous.
I found myself imagining my son, just an hour or so away in Jabaliya, as I so often do when I see beautiful things in the sky. Perhaps he was watching the same sunrise as I was. Maybe he was sitting atop his Puma at that very moment, after a long night of sleeping huddled in a ball. Maybe he was appreciating the beauty of that morning.
As I took in the scenery, my mind wandered. The night before, the news had been buzzing with talk of a hostage deal. And everything else about the war. My eleven-year-old son, in a rare lapse of our parental rigidity, watched the news with his dad for almost an hour. Afterward, when I tucked him into bed, he looked thoughtful, “Ima?” he said, “You know what I think the news is?”
“What’s that?” I replied.
“On the news, they just say bad stuff you already know over and over. And they make you feel really worried about it.”
How true. “You got it. Good night,” I said cheerily as I closed the door.
Experiencing the sunrise of that morning, I couldn’t help but think that we live in such a funny world. As humans, we almost always notice the negative – we’re programmed to do so. Bad news draws us in.
We take the positive things for granted. All the time. Most people miss the beauty of sunrise and are too used to the majesty of the changing sky to really see it at all. Electric lights illuminate our home for 300 nights, yet we only pay attention when the lightbulb burns out on the 301st. Even the most optimistic of us suffer from this universal human tendency to the negative. We tune in the problems and tune out the beauty, the comfort, the convenience, the order, the kindness. We take it all for granted.
This is what I pondered as I watched the changing sky with awe, the intense pink fading into blue as minutes passed. When it got a bit too cold and a bit too late to be outside in my pajamas, I stepped back inside. For the rest of that morning, it was hard not to feel optimistic, not to notice everything good in my life, although this has been particularly challenging in recent days.
I had been blessed with the magic of that sunrise.
First, I noticed my oversized mug placed on the counter by my husband, waiting to be filled with steaming hot water with just a press of a button. I breathed in the sharp scent of ginger as I sliced it and relished the cinnamon-y nutmeg aroma of my tea bag. I opened my computer to begin an hour of writing, and, as usual, I got distracted by the headlines: Deal done. 50 hostages to be released. And despite all the worry, the fear, the political considerations, I felt a moment of deep happiness. Children, mothers, Jewish captives of Hamas returning to Israel. Taken at face value, there was so much joy in that fact. I felt gratitude.
Gratitude. It’s hard to know how to approach this all too fleeting emotion. In our unhappy world, gratitude has been touted as the remedy to sadness and despair.
We all know that learning to be grateful can help us see the good things in our lives and feel more optimistic. Being grateful makes us less attuned to our own problems and helps us seek ways to help others. During this time when there is so much bad to focus on, a deep dive into gratitude feels in order. What does it really mean to be grateful?
There are many obstacles in the standard formulas for gratitude. We’re supposed to write down the things we’re grateful for, jot down thank you notes, and focus on the good we have in our lives. Yet all too often, we feel somewhat entitled to our many blessings, which is an impediment to true gratitude. Yes, my children are well behaved…but I put a lot into my parenting. I guess I deserve it. My husband may be caring…but I take care of him too. Don’t I deserve his love and care?
But do I? All too often, this life presents us with rewards and punishments that are unrelated to our own investment. We do not always reap what we sow. As we have all been recently reminded, one can work very hard for something only to have it ripped away in a breath. Like a home or loved ones.
There are many good things we benefit from which come about through absolutely no effort of our own. Like paved roads, quality medical care, or a country that serves as a safe haven for our people. We are absolutely surrounded by blessings. It’s hard to pay attention to these basic facts of life.
As Jews, we have a formula built into our everyday prayers to help us recognize and be grateful for what we would otherwise take for granted. Every morning, as we rise, we thank God for returning our soul. We thank Him for giving us sight, allowing us to sense passing time, clothing us, and giving us the strength to keep going. Of course, it’s not easy to carry the spirit of our morning prayers into our days. It’s hard to notice the myriad blessings we receive, from socks to delivery men to indoor plumbing. Instead, we usually see the bad and the hard, the evil and the dangerous. And at times like this, that feels very overwhelming.
Something special happened to me on the afternoon before that spectacular sunrise: I finally spoke to my soldier son in Gaza, for almost one complete hour. After many failed attempts at contacting us with a borrowed phone, he managed to find a spot on a rooftop near Jabaliya where he had perfect reception. My son’s voice was a sweet melody to my thirsty soul. I never could have imagined the happiness that could fill my heart just to hear him speak. I listened to his silly quips, his go-with-the flow commentary on life in a Puma, his tales of army trials and tribulations. I felt tremendously reassured. My son was all right, at least for the moment. He was missing home, but not particularly bothered by the fact that he hadn’t slept in a bed for seven weeks. Or that changing underwear once weekly seemed like a completely respectable situation. My son requested that upon his return (whenever that will be) we have a family movie night, with a particular favorite flick of his on the program. And, perhaps not surprisingly for the biggest cereal lover in our family, he was craving Cini-Minis.
My son was okay. That one-hour conversation helped me see more goodness in what had been feeling like a dark world.
Life is full of big challenges right now. We’re a people at war, and all dealing with more negativity, more difficulty, more pain than usual. But despite the pain, or perhaps because of it, we must try harder to notice the blessings in our life: all the good, both magnificent and minuscule, from coffee cups, to glass windows, to the incredible fact that we have friends and loved ones in our lives. To really see these things, we must invest time and energy into paying attention.
Noticing, just noticing, is the true path to gratitude.