After sixty (something mumbly) years of observation, I have concluded one true thing. People are more at peace when they operate out of a place of gratitude. The heart, the mind, and the footsteps of someone filled with gratitude go a long way to make this world a better place.
Today I am thankful for a couple of things. I am thankful for diversity. When I was a little girl, my family lived on a farm in west-central Minnesota near the little town of Evansville, population 800. Everyone around me was Caucasian and Lutheran. Well almost everyone. My dad’s second cousin had returned home from the war with a beautiful and tiny Japanese wife named Yoshi. I remember her infectious laugh and the day she taught my little sister and me the right way to do “the twist.”
There were four non-Lutheran kids in my class. We could tell, because once a week when all the school children were released for religious instruction, those four got to ride to the next town where there was actually a Catholic church. Us little Lutherans trudged across town where we learned the Ten Commandments on the second floor of the creamery. There was a piano up there; weird come to think of it. I still smell sour milk whenever I hear the familiar old hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”
I remember the first black person I ever laid eyes on was the man who brought us towels and soap on the Amtrak train we rode to the state of Washington to visit my cousins in1965. I was 11 years old. That was the extent of diversity in my world as a little girl. But today I am thankful for family members and friends who have vastly different backgrounds and skin tones ranging from very pale to very dark and everything in between.
During my visits to remote villages in Belize and Mexico, when little girls from Ketchie or Yucatec Maya villages in the Belizean rain forest or Tarahumara indigenous people still living in caves in the Copper Canyon, stare at this mop of blonde hair and pet it and giggle, I imagine it might be their first experience with someone who doesn’t look like them. And I wonder how much their world will change by the time they are my age.
Not only am I thankful for diversity, I am also thankful for schools and education. I think it goes without saying that parents around the world and throughout time have tried to craft a life for their children that is better and a little easier than the one they had. It is true in the suburbs of Indianapolis and in the ghettos of Chicago; it is true in the refugee camps of Syria and in the rain forests of Belize; it is true in the border camps as kids are separated from their parents; it is true in the tiny apartments of Beijing and in scenic fishing villages of Norway. It is a matter of the heart. Mankind always wants better for the next generation.
Historically speaking, this has been achieved because of education. As countries, states, and villages value and fund education, the standard of living typically goes up and up, generation after generation.
I am also filled with gratitude for my cultural roots. When my people came to America from Norway just as the Civil War was wrapping up, they left what little they had in a breathtakingly beautiful country, boarded a creaky old ship (with their own provisions for the six week voyage, incidentally), traveled across the icy waters of the north Atlantic through the Hudson Bay, made their way down through the Great Lakes, ending up in the undeveloped wilderness called Minnesota. My dad’s great grandparents dug a hole in the side of a dried up lake bed (later named after them: “Huseth Lake”) and lived in that little dug-out while they cleared their homestead of trees to build a barn and pulled up stumps with oxen to plant crops in the first ever agriculture on that ground.
Just a few generations later, thanks to public education, hard work, and a healthy dose of white privilege, the occupations of my people, the Huseth and Christenson families, are as varied as the branches of our family tree: teachers, preachers, college professors, dentists, pilots, farmers, salesmen, homemakers, tradesmen, computer geeks, photographers, medical technicians, entrepreneurs, authors, accountants, soldiers, entertainers, office administrators, nuclear technicians, one decorated flight nurse and one FBI agent. You name it … we’ve tried it. Descendants of those first cave-dwelling Huseth’s have gone on to make homes in American cities and abroad, in the rolling countryside, and in busy suburbs. Thanks to the sacrifices of our parents and their insistence that education is a treasure to be valued, our family has lived the American dream along with much of the rest of the country.
I am thankful for education and hard work and believe they are mighty things that can take you a long way. But I don’t think it’s everything.
I saw a glimpse of this when I visited Norway in 1996. The Norwegian government and its citizens value and fund education; they send everyone in the country to school all the way through college. While we were there, we had dinner with our second cousin who was attending the University of Bergen tuition free … and she was from Seattle! We visited the home of a long lost relative who proudly showed us his library including not one, not two, but THREE sets of encyclopedias. They were far more informed and interested in world affairs than anyone at home I knew. All the younger people are fluent in at least two languages. Health care is provided by the Norwegian government. People young and old are the picture of health; probably because they walk everywhere they go and eat lots of salmon. There is virtually no air pollution; one car per household (if that) because gas prices were triple what ours were at time. When a baby is born in Norway, both the mother and the father get six months leave of absence from their jobs … paid for by the government. The natural beauty is stunning; snow-capped mountains and fjords everywhere you look. Seems very progressive and full of all the things we want for our kids. And yet, the suicide rate in Norway has doubled in recent decades.
Look at Germany in the 1930’s and 1940’s. A blisteringly serious and hardworking people, not to mention highly educated. The German government held education as a very high priority as they understood the concept that young children could be taught much more easily. Our word “Kindergarten” is a German word because the first pre-school was started in Germany. Much of the world still uses fundamental teaching techniques developed by German educators. Yet in Germany, rich in academia, steeped in hard work and discipline, home of Albert Einstein and the Guttenberg Press, and the cradle of spiritual reformation … a tiny seed of superiority took root in the hearts of leaders and ordinary people. A seed that planted the agenda of “us vs them” and “right vs wrong” and “good vs evil”. A seed nurtured by speeches and literature leading to the Holocaust. A seed of arrogance planted in the heart, justified by the mind, and carried out the annihilation of six million Jews plus anyone else deemed to be less than ideal. Education by itself was not able to speak reason into the hearts of those Nazi guards.
Don’t get me wrong. I saved for my kids’ college educations and I harped about the importance of a strong GPA. I support my church and various mission organizations focused on helping kids go to school in developing nations. My mom was a teacher, my aunt and uncle were teachers, and my dad was a flight instructor.
I believe education IS a mighty thing. But it’s not everything.
After over six decades of observation, I think the heart, the mind, and the footsteps of someone filled with gratitude just might be the one true thing to make this world a better place.
A heart filled with the Christ’s compassion for others; a heart that can’t help but reach out to someone in need.
A mind that acknowledges God and the free gifts he has provided for ALL people. A mind that grasps the fact that everything we personally possess comes directly from the Creator of the universe.
And the footsteps that actually carry this kind of love around the neighborhood and around the world.
Not the heart of superiority that brought us the Crusades, Colonialism, the Holocaust, Apartheid, Darfur, or 9-11. Not the mind of entitlement that carefully constructs a system whereby all our needs are guaranteed to be comfortably met. Not the footsteps that carry death and destruction and war, or perhaps carry nothing at all. But a heart and mind rooted in gratitude.
With this one true thing, all other things fall perfectly into place. Education and the standard of living it brings us suddenly takes on new meaning.
With this one true thing, walls made of fear between races and cultures crumble, leaving only Christ and his perfect love in their place.
With a heart and mind operating out of a place of gratitude, I don’t think we can help but leave this world a better place.