I recently heard a very moving solo rendition of America the Beautiful. I will share some my reflections on America the Beautiful – the song and my Country.
Oh, beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.
I have a vivid memory of a night spent in the wilderness of Wyoming. Above me was a full dome of bright stars. There were no buildings or mountains or even many trees to block the view. There were no city lights to dim the brightness of the stars. I stood in awe of the vastness of the sky and the earth.
I recall driving along a highway past fields of ripening grain as far as I could see. I have see the sun shine on oceans on both sides of our vast land. I am personally privileged to live surrounded by majestic mountains, some purple in the distance, and others so close I can enjoy them any time I go outside my house.
I am amazed by the grandeur and beauty of the landscapes throughout this vast country. I appreciate the variety of land and climate which allow for bounteous harvests of food to sustain and prosper her people.
Am I happy? Am I fulfilled? Am I content? Is there a difference? Is there a conflict between happiness and contentment or is it an issue of perspective and balance? I have pondered much about this for some time. The topic of contentment brings forth a plethora of proverbs, platitudes, quotes and memes. We all tend to see the wisdom in such sayings, but the actual practice of contentment in our lives is a little more complicated and difficult.
So after much contemplation I will offer my own thoughts and platitudes:
Contentment is about gratitude – appreciating what you have rather than focusing on or seeking for what you don’t have, what others have, or what may be out of reach at this time.
The world would have us compare ourselves with others, to feel that it is not fair that some have so much more than we have, to look at ourselves as lacking in one way or another. There will always be those who are more wealthy, beautiful, successful or powerful than we are, but there will also be those who have less than we in all areas. Contentment does not compare and see a lack, but appreciates what we do have.
I just had the privilege of participating in a citizenship ceremony which has caused me to reflect on some things related to some of my Word of the Month posts, including this month’s word which is Privilege.
I attended a Court of Naturalization and witnessed a number of individuals become Citizens of the United States of America. My simple part in the ceremony was leading the singing of the National Anthem, which was certainly not a highlight of the day, especially considering technical difficulties with audio.
The highlight for me was when the new citizens stood and introduced themselves, telling where they had come from and their feelings about this new citizenship. In spite of, or perhaps more accurately because of, the fact that this journey had taken a great deal of desire, time and effort on their part, it was apparent that they did feel that this was a great privilege. They came from an interesting assortment of countries and backgrounds. There was a recognition that there is something special about being “American”, including rights and opportunities unavailable to them in other countries. There were expressions of gratitude for this new citizenship and those who had helped and supported them in their journeys. Some expressed excitement about new opportunities to participate and immediately afterwards registered to vote.
Do we who have been privileged to be born into citizenship appreciate what we have? Do we recognized that among all the inhabitants of this world past and present, we are among the most privileged? Do we appreciate the sacrifice others have made for us to enjoy these privileges?
Most discussions of gratitude focus on what we are grateful for, rather than to whom we express gratitude. How significant is our acknowledgment of the source of our blessings?
Gratitude is considered a universal virtue. It is very effective in counteracting human tendencies toward pride, envy or coveting what others have, to feeling sorry for ourselves when bad things happen or becoming bitter when things are not fair. If we give it some time and thought, we could all come up with lists of things that we are grateful for. But how much do we think about to whom our feelings and expressions of gratitude are directed?
“To Truly Give, we must first Receive”
As we approach the Christmas season with thoughts about gift giving, I would like to share a couple of stories from Christmases past and the lessons I learned from them.
Christmas Story #1
One took place many years ago at a traditional family gathering where gifts were exchanged and opened. We have a particular family member who is one of those hard to buy for folks – you all know them. I had spent a great deal of time thinking about what to give this person, and even more time shopping and agonizing over what to choose. I finally selected what I thought was a simple but good gift. On Christmas day, I gave this nicely wrapped package to this person. He unwrapped and opened it. After taking a look, he placed it back inside the box, then handed it to another family member saying, “I opened this by mistake, this is for you.”
All this was right in front of me. My feelings would not have been hurt if this person had taken this gift back to the store and exchanged it for something else, or even if he had taken it home and then re-gifted it on another occasion. What hurt my feelings was that this gift was never acknowledged.
The real gift was not the object – the real gift was the thought, the intent, the effort put into the giving.
“For what doth is profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift” (Doctrine & Covenants 88:33)
This year has brought some experiences which have made me feel a need to express my gratitude for simple as well as profound blessings.
Like this sign, I am thankful for simple things. I have a home. It is not large or new or grand, but it provides shelter and safety – it is a home. After seeing a house torn apart by a tornado which had only left us in the dark for days, seeing a hole in the ground which a friend intended to live in this winter, then seeing the small modest apartment which he is grateful to call home now, I feel more grateful for the home that I have.
I have had tornado nightmares. I live in Utah, which is not generally known for tornadoes, so these nightmares might have seemed unrealistic and nothing to worry about. One involved a vivid image of a car in my driveway being lifted up in the air and turned upside down – with people I love inside it. In another there was a view of a menacing funnel approaching a soccer field. At that time I was spending a good deal of time at soccer fields, sometimes during storms.