DailyGood: Uncommon Gratitude

When I receive a gift I am acutely conscious of both the gift and the giver, and gratitude spreads through me. This gratitude coalesces into a wish to give something back. I long to please my giver, endow that generous benefactor with something that will offer comfort, nourishment, and delight equal to what I’ve received. When my benefactor is a place rather than a person, however, my role as recipient is less direct. I’m someone who has inadvertently stepped beneath a stream of beneficence not specifically intended for me but suddenly pouring all over me. If I wished to offer thanks, how would I do so? Does a place have consciousness, such that it can receive gratitude for what it has given just by being itself?

People of traditional cultures would say yes, indisputably, and moreover that the expression of gratitude is not a single act taken in response to a single instance of bounty, but part of an ongoing cycle of giving and taking, taking and giving. In the late 1980s and early ’90s I spent a lot of time on Navajo and Hopi lands, writing about a land dispute and relocation issue. The Navajo families I visited would make a simple prayer to the plants they wished to harvest, the sheep they were about to butcher, explaining that they intended to take from them. They assured those living beings that what they were doing was necessary for the good of the human inhabitants of the place, and expressed their hope that the plant or sheep people might continue to flourish as well. Only then would they harvest the plant, draw the knife across the throat of the sheep. The reciprocity in this simple ceremony was implicit.

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