I had a great time.
An eleven-year-old named Brendan Foster was told that he had two weeks to live. The little boy from Western Washington State had been fighting leukemia for three years. He had seen this disease obliterate everything in his life that he loved to do. Before he got sick, he would come home from school, finish his homework as fast as he could, and go outside to run and play, climb trees and fences—do all the things that boys tend to do. He had gone from a vigorous, energetic, lively force of nature to a child who was bedridden and fading quickly from earthly existence.
Nothing more detestable does the earth produce than an ungrateful person.
Put yourself in Brendan’s position. Imagine being confronted with the incredibly sad, incredibly unjust news of your looming and ominous demise. You might expect that Brendan would be more than a tad bitter about his fate. All of his dreams, he wanted to become a marine photographer, gone. All of the promise of life, he would never even make it to his teenage years, gone. All of the regular joys of life, his family and his friends, gone. All of that would be taken away; all of that would vanish. You would think that Brendan would be angry, enraged, and frustrated by the undeniable unfairness of it all. You would think that he would rage against the brutal circumstances of his heartbreaking illness.
You would think that, but you would be wrong.
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
Instead of anger, believe it or not, Brendan responded to his tragedy with an unlikely combination of tranquility, gratitude, and selflessness. When Brendan was first diagnosed with leukemia, he and his mom began a new tradition. Every night they listed three positive things that happened during the day, and they shared a laugh. A chuckle would do, Brenden said, but a fake laugh would never do. Then something extraordinary happened. On the way home from his grueling treatments, Brendan and his mother drove past a makeshift village of homeless people. Brendan’s heart went out to them. This was true unfairness. This was true need.
And so it began. Even though he had not walked since the previous December, Brendan began a movement to help the homeless throughout the Seattle area. Then people began responding throughout the country, from Los Angeles to Cincinnati. All over people began to stop feeling sorry for themselves, their problems, their economic woes, their issues and began responding to people in need. Truly, a dying little boy’s gratitude unlocked the fullness of life.
There are days when I am so caught up in my petty, and occasionally, my not so petty problems that I forget to say thanks.
A writer once wrote that when things are going well in our lives, we are often deaf to their song; we are blind to their beauty. Thanksgiving comes along as a time to stop, to pay attention, to reflect, and to be grateful. Here are four little things for which I am grateful this year:
My life—When you are hanging by your seat belt after you crossed a relatively busy highway and landed on your side up against a tree, your priorities change a bit. It is impossible to take things for granted.
Literacy—I am continually bothering people and begging them to read. Readers are leaders, I chant. If you don’t use your brain, you will lose your brain. A full one-fifth of the world’s population is illiterate, and they will suffer deeply because of it. No excuses Borgia: READ!
The Church—I know the Church has its issues. I know the Church has its problems. But where else will you find the mercy of God? Where else will you find people gathered together to promote the common good? Where else will people bind together in love? Where else will justice meet with mercy? Is it messy? Woo, boy, sure. But what institution isn’t? It is messy because it is real. I am proud to be a Catholic. I am thankful to be a Catholic.
Family—Over the last month, I have become intensely aware of the need and the importance of family, both my biological one and my Borgia one. I have seen families united. I have seen families at odds. I have seen families broken and torn. But through it all, I have seen families dealing with life, sharing love, seeking truth, discovering compassion. When your families gather for Thanksgiving, open your eyes to that.
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.
On November 21,
2008, Brendan Foster lost his battle with leukemia. He outlived his doctor’s prediction by two days. Before he died he said three things. He told an interviewer that the saddest thing is when someone gives up. Second, he was worried about the bee problem, so he encouraged people to plant wildflowers wherever they could to encourage bee population growth. And he remarked at the end that he had a great time in his short life on earth.
An airplane pilot hearing about his request promised to promote seeding from the skies from North America through Central America down into Chile and Argentina. So next spring whenever you see any wildflowers growing, think of a little boy who died of leukemia whose heart was nonetheless filled with gratitude and joy. And may your Thanksgiving meals be turned into feast, your houses become homes, and any stranger you meet become a friend.