Hospice workers frequently ask the question, “What is most important to you today?” This is a meaningful inquiry, especially considering that the answer might change from visit to visit – or even moment to moment.
Not long ago, I asked this question of a kind, elderly gentleman in a nursing home. Without his usual time for reflection, he exclaimed, "I don't know what is most important. There are so many things that are the best!"
I was so delighted and inspired by his response I wanted to immediately share it with my team. Unfortunately, I could not report it with the joy and excitement with which he expressed it, so my effort did not match his original enthusiasm.
Gratitude carries great value. The old hymn “Count Your Blessings” reminds us of this. Spiritual directors, life coaches, and most anyone employed in acts of encouragement often promote making a list of things for which we are grateful every day. Does this sound like a monotonous chore? What if you are grateful for some of the same things every day and they spill over into numerous lists? What if some days simply seem so gloomy it is difficult to find one thing for which to be thankful?
Let us consider the gentleman who’s example I have shared. One might think, should he place a list of pros beside a list of cons, he could easily allow the cons to outweigh the pros. For example, I imagine there are other things he would like to be doing and other places he would like to be; yet he repeatedly expresses gratitude for the nursing facility, its staff, and the friends he has found there. I can imagine he isn’t always served his favorite meals; yet he consistently expresses thanks for his food and for those who help him eat when he is tired. There are so many details of his current world for which he did not plan; but he gives thanks every day. We even frequently find him praying or singing uplifting songs to bless the staff and other patients.
I am overwhelmingly inspired, challenged, and encouraged by this kind, elderly friend who – despite physical frailties and numerous unanticipated obstacles – chooses to believe that every day there are so many things that are “the best.” As delightful as I found this experience, the gentleman unknowingly posed a significant challenge to me. If he could find so many good things in his day that he could not begin to choose “the best,” surely I have no excuse for letting daily struggles keep me down. I want to experience each day filled with so much good I cannot choose “the best.”