The first thing I realize is that this exercise gets harder each day; and second is how each “grateful” is inevitably linked to every other “grateful”. But in any event here I go!
#1 I would probably start in an area that perhaps most people would not think of as a source of “gratefulness”; and that is the area of adversity, disappointment, loss, failure, setbacks and denials. My thinking and reasoning here begins with my theological thinking and reasoning. I believe that Satan faces an impossible (no win) situation; primarily because he can’t contemplate the mind of God. This essentially means that people can act with the worst, and most evil intentions; but the outcomes (often unknown to us who also lack the ability to fully understand the mind of God; and thus, “faith”) have a purpose and meaning that lead to our good, and “the good”. For example that job you lost, or never received, was because you were supposed (needed) to be some other place. The person you wanted so much in your life, who left (and you cried!); needed to leave as they were blocking you from being and meeting, “better”. Now I understand that this is a strange, and difficult way of looking at the world but if a priest, minister, Imam, rabbi, or any type of spiritual leader (if they are to truly leading spiritually), must assist people in understanding this essential principle of life; or the people will have a very distorted and destructive perception of God. This is beyond: “learning from your mistakes” (which is important); this is that mistakes, problems and setbacks have meaning, as part of our personal meaning in this life. Further, these events are revelatory; as when there is adversity what clearly surfaces is our “true character”. We can’t truly discover who we are (really); if we don’t face great difficulty. Denials and loss are also a way of our “shedding” a situation so that we can evolve to the next situation. If you are underappreciated, unwanted, then there is a good possibility that you are “serving” in the wrong place and to the wrong people. Rejection points us in the direction of our calling, the work you should be doing and, to the people who truly need your work.
#2 Education: I know I am a little bias here; but I really believe that “unrepentant ignorance” (don’t know, and don’t want to know; and even worse, don’t know that you don’t know) is a great cause and source of suffering in this world. I believe that the best chance we have in helping humans to feel the true worth of being human, and therefore to be able to honor the humanity of other humans, is in that K-12th grade window. I start with my gratefulness for my “formal” teachers (97% White-Americans) who had, and held me to very high standards. They had high expectations for us, and did not use poverty, or any other excuse as a reason we could not learn and succeed. There was one long continuum of my being able to expand my mind; from learning to read in early childhood classes; to Shakespeare, Shirley Jackson, Guy de Maupassant, E. E. Cummings and Langston Hughes in a high school English Regents class. From my 8th grade “sputnik inspired”, resource rich science class; that really opened me to a love of science; to a high school Chemistry class that greatly expanded that opening, and sealed that love. I learned that the love of wanting to know, and knowledge itself was the most important weapons in the fight to succeed in life. In every way my professional life was/is the attempt to reproduce that power I was given as a school age child. As a principal I consciously (unconsciously?) sought to hire teachers who mirrored the wonderful teachers I had in my public school life. I am also grateful for my “informal” educational experiences. Growing up in walking distance of the: Brooklyn Public Library (BPL-Main branch); The Botanical Gardens, The Brooklyn Zoo; Prospect Park; The Brooklyn Museum and The Brooklyn Children Museum(BCM) was a wonderful childhood gift. The BPL and the BCM were places that I would spend timeless days in deep exploration and imagination; and for a young Black man, these institutions were most importantly, places (like school) where I could be “safely smart”! But this rich learning environment also gave me a weekly intellectual lift that grew my inquisitive mind, and help me to know that there was something called “the world”, which took in my world, but also included a much larger world. This also provided me with an emotional retreat from the challenges of urban life; I was in, and at the same time, was not in Brooklyn. But here goes that divine component again, as you can’t possibly choose (as a child) where you end up living. This had to be a blessing, for which I am eternally, and daily grateful!
#3 My Mother is, without a doubt, the single most important influence in my life; and for her, I am gratefully in debt forever. Let’s start with my name. I have always been fascinated by names. I believe what you name a baby has very important spiritual qualities, of which I can’t quantify and prove utilizing the existing scientific methods. But names I suspect have some form of cosmic connective power, and are not accidental acts (which is why parents ought to take better care of how they approach this task). As a principal, I once teased a teacher named Ashley; that in all of my years in education I had never encountered an “Ashley” who was not very smart (please don’t get upset this is not a scientific poll; it’s only my experience). On the other hand I have never met a Michael who was not to some degree, an “up setter of the order of things”. Michaels’ bring an innate challenge to what they believe is unfairness and injustice (Martin Luther King was actually born a Michael!). There are some really deep spiritual reasoning’s here; but I will offer the very sort version: In Christian theology Michael is that angel who is assigned to directly confront Satan, and subdue him “underfoot”. Michaels’ will necessarily generate (bring to the surface) the worst or the best in people. And so the first great act is to “name the child”, or to speak their calling into being. I am also appreciative of my mother’s efforts of encouraging good habits (many of which I mentally resisted; no physical resistance in those days); they range from seemingly small things like: Getting up early on weekends and non-school days; making my bed every morning (and don’t get back in it); Church every Sunday; honesty, even if it means taking a lost; perseverance and persistence in getting to a situation, and through any situation (“you won’t die”); delayed gratification; hard work has its own reward; “You must give more to the world, then you take from the world”; taking more responsibility than credit; thinking independently, “don’t follow the crowd”; and having compassion for those who are less fortunate. My mother was also the first person to identify and verbalize my calling in life (back to the name thing). As a teenager, a part of me was secretly more in love with Nietzsche and Ayn Rand; then Martin Luther King and Gandhi. I thought that kindness and compassion were traits I did not like about myself; I thought of them as the weaker emotions (not an uncommon response by a member of the politically disenfranchised). But my mother once said that: “God made you who you are, and you can’t escape from it”. She was right, you cannot escape from yourself (you can try, but at a great cost—an inauthentic life). I hate (a word I rarely use) injustice, unfairness, exploitation, dehumanization and oppression, with an innate passion; even at the cost of my life, I can’t feel comfortable in their presence. Finally, my mother enthusiastically and consistently fed my intellect by acquiring books, magazines, magnifying glass, magnets, a microscope, science kits and experiences that nurtured my curiosity and intelligence. When I was in middle school, she once told a group of “talkative” visiting neighbors: “You folks gotta go, Michael is studying!” Although she did not have a vast “formal” education; she was seriously committed and invested in anything academic I pursued; as if she sincerely believed that education was the best tool of liberation, for those who the nation had not entitled; and so, I am daily grateful for having inherited that belief from her!