Grateful for One’s Thumb

Sometimes during the holiday season, people feel obliged to be jolly, when what they really feel is loneliness, loss, sorrow and suffering.


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November is the month for giving thanks, but for many people, Thanksgiving and the ensuing holiday weeks up through New Year’s Day are among the saddest, hardest to live through. They feel obliged to be jolly, when what they really feel is loneliness, loss, sorrow and suffering. An attitude of gratitude sticks in their craw. 

Sometimes feeling grateful is more than we can manage. I remember one day walking down a sandy path on one of the most beautiful islands God ever fashioned, and every cell in my body rebelled at feeling good: I was overwhelmed with loneliness, resentment, depression, despair, anxiety, bitterness. How often I was taught as a child to “count your blessings” with the idea, of course, that if you did, your mood would shift.

“I have no blessings,” I thought that day, blind to the beauty around me. I could not think of one single thing to be thankful for, and then, resentfully I acquiesced: “All right. I’ll be grateful for my thumb.” I stared sourly at the thumb on my right hand. I had a thumb, and watching it, observing how it moved in circles, bent at the knuckles, could pick things up, or squish them—both sensitive and strong—I began to consider the remarkable action of my other fingers, then of my wrist.  Soon I was intrigued by the movement of my elbow (which, oddly can’t flex backwards), and before I knew it I had lifted my eyes and behold! The sky was blue, the sand warm under my bare feet, the rose bushes blooming. A sea gull squawked overhead, and my heart lifted, soaring with its flight into the air. 

Because I had a thumb.

I don’t know if that will help anyone in this difficult holiday season. I offer it in humility: one thumb.

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