I recently saw an interview of Michael J. Fox, of “Back to the Future” and other fame. He was being interviewed about his upcoming fourth memoir entitled No Time Like the Future. As you may know, he has had Parkinson’s Disease for the past 30 years and a couple years ago had surgery to remove a tumor from his spine. After long and grueling rehabilitation to learn how to walk again, he suffered a severely broken arm requiring complex surgery to place 19 pins and a plate, again setting him back for a long rehabilitation period in order to do even simple daily tasks. It was after this last health crisis that even he questioned his optimism and had to dig deeper, thus inspiring his most recent memoir searching for the answer to how to find hope in times of darkness.
As he describes his many health challenges, and a degenerative disease that as he says someday, “ . . . will render me frozen, immobile, stone-faced, and mute . . .” , he now no longer quips he makes lemonade out of lemons, but rather, in his words, he’s thrown out the lemonade stand! So how does he maintain his still optimistic attitude?
Michael states, “With gratitude, optimism becomes sustainable.”
All of us endure challenges, some more intense, some less so, some better times, some worse, those comparisons not with others, but rather, as we think about different situations and seasons in our own lives. We go through easy times, and the inevitable difficult ones too. Steadfast faith in HaShem helps us to not swing in the wind at the mercy of the winds of life. To help support that anchor of faith is our general outlook on life. Knowing the importance of our mental outlook, how do we grow our sense of gratitude which, if we can, fortifies us even more strongly in our faith-based belief that all will be right eventually?
Each morning our faith grounds us through our morning prayer, Modeh Ani, “ I thank you, living and enduring King for You have graciously returned my soul within me. Great is your faithfulness.” We are reminded to be grateful as we thank HaShem for returning our breath, our soul, to us, to be alive one more day. Starting from a place of gratefulness, able to be reminded of the blessing of life by our very ability to breathe, gives us the perspective to see the myriad of small gifts and blessings we are about to and have received. This viewpoint especially helps us during times of physical illness, as in Michael J. Fox’s case, or during any times of trial whether financial, emotional, or especially during crises of faith.
Gratitude is fueled when we give to others. When we serve others from a place of gratitude, whether by donating our time, services, or financially, or with our prayers, our outward look is powered by a sense of gratitude for what we have and our wanting to share it with others. Money is tight but I can share a favorite recipe with you. I can’t be with you but I can call you. When we focus on others, we may, but should not expect to receive the gratitude of those whom we have served with our graciousness, creating a beautiful circle of love.
Our once perceived sad state of our own affairs instead becomes a viewpoint of how we can help others. Our gratitude for what we have been given becomes the catalyst for a deeper understanding of the many blessings we have received, a reminder of how much we are able to give to others.
Fox did not just accept suffering from Parkinson’s Disease and work on his own issues. With gratitude that he still was able to serve others he formed a foundation for Parkinson’s Disease research that over the last 20 years has funded more than one billion dollars for research of this disease. We each have ways to fuel helping others through gratitude for what we have been given. When we have an attitude of thankfulness for HaShem’s blessings, a phone call to someone needing encouragement, powerfully fueled by our own feeling of gratitude, changes that person’s day in a positive way, and the time spent with whom that person interacts. If we are grateful for having survived a tough physical challenge, our sharing our optimism, that there is hope, palpably can be felt since given by someone who’s been there and understands another’s pain. The opportunities are endless for sustaining and nurturing optimism during times of challenge.
It is the time of Thanksgiving, and we have so much to be thankful for this year. How can I say that? As we are forced to work harder to experience gratefulness, we more deeply feel the beauty of and want to help the massive attempts to bring food to the hungry. Gratefully reminded of the preciousness of relationships, we are incentivized to interact safely with loved ones, knowing at the end of this season of deprivation those hugs and kisses will feel all the more sweet. We find peace in the house plants and pets, awe of the beauty of nature, experience shalom in the chaos fueled by our sense of gratitude, all the more thankful for the simple pleasures no longer taken for granted.
We all can be thankful, even during a year of pandemic and election drama, even during a year of personal losses, as we deepen our faith in God, as we remind ourselves to be grateful for the many blessings all of us receive daily, starkly more evident in the most trying of times if we just open our eyes and ears to them. We don’t have to go back to the future to appreciate the present with hope and optimism.
Happy Thanksgiving and Shabbat shalom.