Dis­cov­er­ing grat­i­tude amid the roller coaster of news

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - News - Fred Nied­ner is a se­nior re­search pro­fes­sor at Val­paraiso Univer­sity.

Even as we wished each other Happy New Year last week, it seemed ob­vi­ous 2019 would likely en­velop us in wave af­ter wave of un­wel­come drama. If the year’s first few days of­fer a telling fore­taste, the stock mar­ket will give us a ride like an old Tilt-a-Whirl at the county fair, the 2020 elec­tion runup will de­volve into ugly rounds of name-call­ing and “gotcha” games, and un­less some­one builds a big, beau­ti­ful wall around the White House, un­pre­dictable whims and ru­mors thereof will threaten to con­sume our ev­ery wak­ing mo­ment. If you don’t thrive on chaos, anger, and du­els fought with nasty words at 10 paces, you’ll need some hid­ing places, di­ver­sions, and san­ity pre­servers.

No mat­ter how much or how lit­tle in­flu­ence we have over the ex­er­cise of power in our com­mu­ni­ties and na­tion, each of us must learn to dis­cern what things we can and can­not change and then ex­pend our per­sonal re­sources and en­er­gies where we can truly help, not merely fret and fume. What does help­ing look like? For starters, it honors the gen­uine hu­man­ity of ev­ery­one present, how­ever odd or frag­ile. Un­help­ful al­ter­na­tives in­clude ev­ery be­hav­ior that some­how de­hu­man­izes one­self or oth­ers.

Be­gin the prac­tice of san­ity-sav­ing by tak­ing ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to sit for a time with some­one near to dy­ing. Hold their hands in yours. Ask what they think about, what makes them most grate­ful. Lis­ten care­fully. Read a poem. Sing old songs that have dug deep ruts on both your souls. You can’t keep some­one from dy­ing, but to­gether, you will honor the gift of the one life each of you will get on this planet, and you will see again what re­ally mat­ters in life — con­nec­tion, shar­ing, love and grat­i­tude for sim­ply be­ing hu­man, to­gether, in this brief in­ter­sec­tion of time and space.

Then take that grat­i­tude and wis­dom into ev­ery work­place and es­cape venue you have. None of us can stop or change the shift­ing mix of back­grounds and lan­guages around us, but we have great con­trol over whether we live among friends or wall our­selves into es­tranged, shrink­ing ghet­tos. Friends are merely strangers we have wel­comed, or who have wel­comed us, helped us, en­riched our lives. Life is too short to spend on cul­ti­vat­ing en­e­mies.

Watch films and read books, es­pe­cially his­tory and fic­tion, and thereby en­ter worlds you could never reach through travel and be­come fa­mil­iar with peo­ple you can never touch ex­cept through the gifts of nar­ra­tive and imag­i­na­tion, two of hu­mankind’s most pre­cious ca­pac­i­ties. You will find your­self thank­ful not only for the tal­ents of good writ­ers and film­mak­ers, but also for your new­found fa­mil­iar­ity with some of your real-live neigh­bors who once seemed so strange you could never imag­ine them as friends.

If you love sports and the par­tial es­cape they can still pro­vide from the real world’s in­san­i­ties and in­jus­tices, im­merse your­self. But be­ware of the joy-rob­bing poi­son of me­dia an­a­lysts who would have you be­lieve any­thing less than a na­tional cham­pi­onship ren­ders a sea­son of com­pet­ing lit­tle more than dust and ashes. Pon­der in­stead the pain of train­ing, the hours of prac­tice, and the love of a game that makes young bod­ies keep try­ing, and some­times suc­ceed­ing, at im­pos­si­ble feats. Losers of­ten per­form as beau­ti­fully as win­ners. Ap­plaud both, for each side has given you an equally pre­cious gift.

Re­sent­ment over what we be­lieve we should have but don’t cun­ningly poi­sons our souls and blinds us to the gifts we do have. Even if we must fight for jus­tice, grat­i­tude re­mains the best respite for souls that need a safe hid­ing place.

Fred Nied­ner

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