I chanced upon a short BBC TV interview featuring the 1976 Summer Olympics multi-gold medalist Nadia Comaneci. A recently recorded interview, it featured the now 55 year-old Olympian. There were video clips of her record-making routines and they are just as spectacular today as they were 40 years ago. As she was reminiscing about how she felt when she became the first ever Olympic gymnast to get a perfect 10 score in the history of the modern games, she said something interesting – that now, today, as she looks back at that historic performance, it has become much more valuable and that she understands what a big deal it was. The trace of gratitude in her whole demeanor was not hidden in any way.
I think that this says something about life. Ms. Comaneci was expressing the truth that in life, being grateful becomes of us when we are appreciative over and over of where we once were, and for where we are now in life. I am wont to believe that gratitude is really the root of all virtue. It undergirds all authentic love.
It is when we have lost the ability to be grateful, and begin to take anything or anyone for granted, that the foundations of virtue begin to erode and we find ourselves building on sand in everything that we do.
We get a sense of this when we ponder the original fall of man (and woman) in Scripture. This depicts Adam and Eve doing something rather innocuous and seemingly trivial – the taking of a fruit from a tree. The logical mind doesn’t quite know how to make any sense of this because if that tree was so potentially toxic not just to the two of them, but also to the entire human race, then it shouldn’t have been in the garden in the first place! So right from the start, we say that this tale/lore/story/fable/parable (delete whichever is applicable) is flawed.
Anyone looking at this purely from a logical, dualistic and left-brained perspective would be excused for coming to this conclusion. But the fall of humankind and the subsequent elaborate and long drawn-out plan to get humankind back into Eden and back into eternal life is just as illogical, non-dualistic and requires more of a right-brained thinking.
The fall of humanity is often attributable not to the action of eating of a fruit, but to the energy and drive to even want to do it in the first place. In that garden, and in the original plan, there was a promise that life would be super abundantly rich and good. It had a caveat; a clause. And the condition was that the life that they were promised was to be received as gift, and the only way one could truly partake and enjoy it in its fullest was when they continued to receive it with gratitude, respecting the gift with a heart that knows that it didn’t deserve it in the first place. Grace, to be grace, has to be totally undeserved and unearnable.
But, as the story shows, the life that God gave us necessarily came with a freedom as well. And this is because love has to be free in order for it to be real. A love that is forced to love in return is not love. People in forced marriages or people living in fear in a marriage know this to be true. This is the reason why we always try to ensure that when coupled enter into marriage, that there is no coercion or situations that are forcing the couple to marry, compromising the absolute freedom of the couple concerned. And that is why a pregnancy out of wedlock is always deemed a curtailing of freedom.
God doesn’t force us to love him. He knows that forced love is an oxymoron. That is why he gave us the ability to even want to reject this offer of love, and the result is that Adam and Eve took from the tree. The whole simple explanation of their sin is that they were not receptive of life as a gift, but appropriated it for themselves in that defiant act of taking and grabbing it as if it was theirs by right. And from that point, we have all been struggling with this and have to learn over and over again to truly nurture gratitude in our lives.
One of the effective ways to remind us to be grateful is to look back at where we have come from in life. People with a mired past and who are living now in a new enlivened state have an advantage over others. People who have come through adversities and emerged later more grounded, more stable and less scattered have great advantage to be thankful. Peoples who had been refugees once but are now citizens of countries which gave them a new stability and citizenship know this to be true. It is not just a concept for them. It is real. And we all need to be able to do this often.
Today, I can say that I am one such grateful person. It was exactly three years ago that I received my much-needed perfectly matching Stem Cells from my kind and generous donor, Mr. Peter Mui who lives in Chicago. This truly altruistic donation has allowed me to be alive today, and I am two years away from being declared cancer-free and in full remission from my Leukemia. I have never allowed myself to take this great act of kindness for granted, and it has forever shaped the way I approach challenges in life. Everything is truly gift, even the adversities and trials that we have in life.
Peter has a wonderfully self-deprecating nature, and each time I thank him for his selfless act, he tells me that he did something anybody would have done. But the truth is that it isn’t something anybody would have done. It was something he specifically did, and it mattered. He asks jokingly if being demonstrative of my gratitude could be getting old. It cannot get old. If it does get old, it means that I have begun to take mercy and grace for granted. I need to be grateful and to show it in living a converted life each day.
So Peter, again and again, I would like to say a big “thank you” for giving me the possibility of getting a ‘re-boot’ in life and to be usable for God’s kingdom and His work. It’s my new third birthday, and it truly is a very happy one.