Every night before my head hits the pillow, I record one blessing from the day on my iPhone notepad.
Sometimes, I'll give thanks for an evening of wine and conversation with friends, a crescent moon, or a morning weekend walk to the lake with my fiancé. And other times, I'll mark down on my list reading a good book, catching a baby in sunglasses, or even a particularly on-point and hysterical Stephen Colbert monologue to end a long day. Sometimes, it's hard to choose just one. Other days, I struggle to find even one.
But even on the hard days, remembering our blessings makes us appreciate the beauty, wonder, and magic of life.
This past year, we as citizens of this country, and of the world, have been encountering so much collective pain, deep political and cultural divides, a resurgence of white supremacy and neo-Nazis on our screens and on our streets, and anti-Semitic activists across college campuses disguised as liberal champions of the underdog.
We're living at a time, too, of soaring natural disasters--hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires--wreaking havoc on our planet.
Then, last month, we woke up to the biggest mass shooting in modern day U.S. history at what should have been a peaceful open-air country music concert on the Vegas strip.
Indeed, some days we struggle to find the blessings. And yet, even on those most heartbreaking of days, we can find them if we really search.
Gratitude and mindfulness lie at the heart of who we are as Jews. We're supposed to express thanks to God for waking up every day, for the souls we embody, for the food we eat, for the illness or danger we survive, and even for our bodily functions acting in working order for another day.
The great Jewish sage Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote about mindfulness as an expression of gratitude, in his famous quote: "Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement," he said. "Get up every morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed."
Certain days are harder than others to feel "phenomenal." In fact, some, like the one we woke up to the day after the Vegas massacre, feel un-phenomenal and horrible. But the thing is, if Rabbi Heschel were around today for us to seek counsel from, I think he would advise us to find a phenomenal blessing even on those tough days; and he'd remind us that seeing the blessings is up to each one of us.
In the spiritual guide called The Extraordinary Nature of Ordinary Things, Rabbi Steven Leder writes about appreciating all that's extraordinary in even the mundane and ordinary routine of daily life through a Jewish lens.
But it gets harder as we age. Children are naturals at observing the wonders of life--picture a child's delight in blowing the seeds off a dandelion or in watching a concrete mixer lay pavement--but as we grow older, Leder said, we lose some of that awe.
Wouldn't it be great to regain a little of that sense of observation and wonder that we had as children?
Rabbi Leder references in his book a Hasidic story in which a rebbe asks his followers where God exists. "Everywhere," his disciples respond. "No," the rabbi replies. "God exists only where we let God in."
Soon, we'll sit down for Thanksgiving, a national holiday that seems like an extension of the High Holiday season because it focuses on themes of gratitude so prominent in Jewish values.
Even through all the turmoil happening around the world, across the country, and in our own backyards, let's remember to be mindful and grateful of the blessings all around us.
In fact, when the days are tougher to get through and the news is almost unbearable to watch, those are the days when we really need to count our blessings.
For more stories in the "Just Thought I'd Say Thanks" blog series, visit oychicago.com/thanks.