Earth Etude for Elul 24: Choosing Gratitude
by Rabbi Judy Kummer
It was my ankle that went. There I was, in the gorgeous Berkshires countryside, walking briskly with my sister-in-law on a glorious true-blue spring day, sun spilling giddily over wildflowers by the sides of the country road, bugs thrumming merrily in the long grass and the smells of freshness and potential all around.
My sister-in-law pointed out cows in a nearby field; as I glanced over at them, savoring the sunshine on my face, my foot failed to notice missing pavement at the edge of the road — and I took a tumble, twisting my ankle and swearing loudly as I hit the ground.
Pain, deep pain throbbed, along with embarrassment at my klutziness. I was shocked—how on earth had this happened? I had just been walking on the road, hale and hearty, exulting in my good health and in the warm sunlight—and a second later I’m on the ground with a twisted ankle?? I was also aware that I had sustained a real injury— and with that realization came an awareness of the stupid timing of this accident: I had been looking forward to an active summer filled with lovely woodland hikes and long lake swims…
But oddly, as I sat by the side of the road, bits of gravel pressing sharp against my legs and hands, I found myself going into a mode of stillness —and then, unexpectedly, into a mode of gratitude.
My gratitude built over the following hours: I felt grateful that it was my left ankle that I had injured, allowing me still to drive. I could put weight on the leg, which meant it likely wasn’t broken. I felt grateful that I had laced myself firmly into hiking boots before setting out, which had clearly protected my ankle from any worse injury. I was grateful that my sister-in-law had been at hand and that she had flagged down my nephew, driving by en route home from an errand, so I could be transported back to her house quickly and in style, rather than limping home in pain and in shame. I made it to urgent care near home in the company of my mom. I felt grateful to be wrapped in the cotton-batting protection of family connection; I was clearly not facing this injury all on my own.
Our lives are filled with challenges, large and small— and our lives are also filled with gifts and blessings. And the same moment that feels challenge-filled may also hold within it some facets of blessing as well. It is our choice as human beings which we will focus on at any given moment.
Our ancient ancestors knew the wisdom of choosing to focus on the positive. When gifts come our way in life, what a wonderful additional gift we can give ourselves by offering a blessing, an expression of thanks in response. When we choose to focus on the bounty of our gifts and then express our gratitude for them, the impact is not only outward; it echoes in our own hearts. Gratitude warms the heart and often expands our own happiness — and it may also move us toward further acts of kindness and efforts to bring happiness to others. Gratitude, it seems, is a gift that keeps on giving, and giving.
As we approach the High Holidays, may we choose for the coming year a path of gratitude and of offering blessings for our many gifts — and through this choice, may we too be blessed.
Rabbi Judy Kummer is a board certified chaplain in private practice, offering skilled spiritual care visits, eldercare programing and lifecycle events. She has served as executive director of the Jewish Chaplaincy Council of MA and other nonprofits, and has served congregations in DC, NY and NJ. She is happiest outdoors hiking in the woods, swimming in a lake at sunset or tending to her Boston organic garden.