Tuesday, May 24, 2022 -
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Modeh Ani

There are so many versions of Thanksgiving. Each family crafts its own traditions and rituals. For some, the rituals are etched in stone and altering them would be sacrilegious. For others, like me, it’s different every year.

What ties Thanksgiving to everyone, though, is that we all pause to occupy ourselves with the business of formally giving thanks and filling ourselves with gratitude — all while enjoying some delicious comforting and colorful autumnal dishes, in the process.

To be sure, it’s a nice duality.

Each morning we arise with the words Modeh Ani, I am grateful. These two words launch each and every one of our days.

It’s interesting, I have noticed that the harder a time I am enduring, the more meaningful these two words become. With two simple yet profound words, I am directed by a force that centers and grounds me, to feel a sense of well-being, contentment, for what I am blessed to have.

Throughout the years, I have learned to try to internalize how the wisdom of perspective is so closely linked to gratitude. For whatever my struggles at any given time may be, they could very well be the stuff of dreams for another.

Modeh Ani are the tools I am given with which to start my day. The message it gives me is, find the words to articulate what you notice and feel grateful for. Even if it’s just within yourself, like a pair of glasses with which to look through the day. It’s a way of keeping at bay the tempting voice that celebrates chronic complaining — a danger that lurks and can strike at any moment.

Gratitude does not imply insincerity, superficiality or being out of tune emotionally and just ridiculously sugar coating everything.

Living a life of authentic gratitude is anything but. If anything, it demands more emotional integrity, more awareness, more work — not less.

And the rewards it can reap are immeasurable for our wellness: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

For me it starts with appreciating the quotidian. Being mindful of the micro in life. The universal rhythms in life we all enjoy and appreciate.

Breath. Movement. My five senses. A beautiful sunrise or sunset. A satisfying meal. A lovely walk. A gorgeous flower or burning gold tree. My hands cupped around a warm drink. A place to rest my head.

From these essential moments and experiences, it’s about extending this sense of mindfulness for the quotidian, to tougher, more challenging emotional moments that might catch me off guard.

Of course, it’s easier said than done. Days, and then weeks, that turn into months, can become so frenetic.

But like anything you practice, the more I do it, the more gratitude has — I hope! — become a core part of who I try to be.

On a national level, Thanksgiving is a wonderful annual moment to pause together as a country, and together feel thanks for what we have been given. Even more than a July 4th barbecue, what is a more culinary experience that says “American” than a dinner plate holding the combination of roasted turkey, savory stuffing, sweet and tart magenta cranberry sauce, deep orange sweet potatoes and slices of apple, pumpkin or pecan pie?

It’s pretty neat to have a precise tangible culinary expression to represent a concept, in this case gratitude. Almost like a version of Passover’s “lechem oni”, the matzah that is a tangible culinary expression representing freedom; the flattened cracker that never had time to rise, due to the Israelites rush to freedom from Egyptian slavery.

Yet, there is something about these simple two words we awaken with each day Modeh Ani, that is somehow more powerful than any formal ceremony of gratitude.

These two words are so very personal. While we might each start our day with these identical words for gratitude, Modeh Ani means something different for each of us. Universally, it’s an expression of gratitude for the gift of being given another day.

Yet, depending on what the previous day held, and what the pending day ahead holds, these words we pause and open our day with can define how we navigate through it.

There’s an intimacy to it. Unlike a collective national memory, be it historically more recent and secular in nature as Thanksgiving might be, or religious in tone like Passover, marking the birth of our nation, the Jewish People, there is something about the toil of daily gratitude touching and zigzagging through the various points of our day, that is quite self-defining.

Life can be hard sometimes. So it’s a good goal to keep my eye on these two precious words: Modeh Ani. And try and thread them throughout my days.

It’s also nice to have a holiday marking our gratitude on a more macro level.

A day suffused and permeated with the lightness and joy of family and good friends. A day that, with a plateful of good food, says: Thank you.

It’s our own annual and American version of Modeh Ani.

Copyright © 2021 by the Intermountain Jewish News

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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