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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

America mustn’t forget to say thanks

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On the 10th day of April, I finally found a silver lining to what has become the most prolongedly gross winter.

“At least when it gets nice, we’ll be really grateful,” I thought Tuesday morning as I watched snow flurries mixed with rain splatter Holtsville.

Gratitude is everything, and many of us seem to be losing our ability for feeling and expressing it. Perhaps that’s because we don’t seem to teach gratitude anymore, or prioritize it.

When kids or even adults don’t want to finish their broccoli and Brussels sprouts, I wish we still said, “There are children starving in North Korea, you know.” And not as just a punchline, or a way to kindle the memory of the grandmothers who said it to us.

That saying wasn’t merely intended to get kids to eat the plate clean. It also was a way to stimulate gratitude, and coming from my Depression-era grandparents, first-generation Americans, the idea of hunger was not theoretical. They were saying, to have enough to eat, as a matter of course, is a great privilege, and not one we have always enjoyed. To accept such abundance as a matter of course, to not think about it and take joy in it and be quite thankful for it, is a sin.

And I wish we still gave thanks at every meal. Not necessarily a rote “God is great, God is good, thank you for our daily food,” although that has value. And not necessarily one that mentions God, or even always focuses on food. But just some brief acknowledgment of all we have to be thankful for.

Because it is difficult to be furious and grateful at the same time, fearful and grateful at the same time, jealous and grateful at the same time, hateful and grateful at the same time.

And in 2018 in the United States of America, when we have more to be grateful for than very nearly any humans who have ever lived, we too often are fearful and jealous and hateful. We fight and bicker like starving children even as we enjoy extraordinary plenty.

Gratitude, like a muscle, must be worked to become strong. And it’s more important than the cardio, weights and yoga so many of us schedule.

If we are grateful to be well fed, we want that bounty for others. If we are grateful to be free and Americans, then we want that bounty for others. If we are grateful to be warm and safe, educated and entertained, hopeful for the future and cognizant of all our blessings, we want that for others.

Most everyone has hardships. But when we dwell on our hardships, the things we do not have or the challenges we must face, then other people can look like obstacles. Everyone seems to stand in our way, to want what we need, to demand what’s not rightfully theirs.

Most everyone has blessings. And when we focus on our blessings, then other people look like opportunities, and miracles. Everyone seems worthy of help, or glad to help us, to have the right to what they want and need and strive for.

There really are people starving in North Korea and hungry in the United States. There are people without clean drinking water and medical care and basic freedoms and loving parents and decent governments. And hope. And safety.

We can forget we have so much, and not care that others do not, if we focus only on what we can’t afford or don’t have, on the small fears we blow out of proportion and the hates we nurture.

We don’t have to eat our Brussels sprouts, but we need to be damn glad to have them. And every other blessing we enjoy. And if we practice this gratitude, if we remind each other and ourselves regularly, then maybe spring will dawn, not just outside our windows, but inside our hearts as well.

Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.