“I really appreciate how nice the weather is today, especially after all that rain we had last week,” I started.
“I really appreciate how blue the sky is today,” she continued.
“I’m really thankful my mom convinced me to buy these shoes because they’re really comfy to walk in.”
If you had heard my friend and me talking on the way back from class last semester, you might have thought we were two happy-go-lucky or sickeningly sweet girls. However, we still complained about our work, finals, projects, humidity, and the perils of long hair. In reality, we just liked how it felt to take a break from complaining and be thankful for beauty and comfort in this world.
As we open our eyes in the mornings and convince ourselves not to snooze our alarms again, we are supposed to be filled with gratitude to G-d that we were given another day to live. As we remind ourselves to say a blessing before we eat that perfect-looking apple, we are filled with gratitude that G-d has given us from His beautiful fruits to eat. Gratitude is a theme in Judaism, the word “Jew” itself shares a root with the word le-hodot, “to thank.”
More than that, in Pirkei Avot 4:1, we are taught “who is rich? He who is happy with his lot.” And where does this start? With the concept of hakarat hatov, literally “recognizing the good.” So what if it’s a little humid today? The sun is shining for the first time in days. So what if you spilled milk? At least you have more to pour.
I choose to look at the U.S. through a similar lens. For the first time in a long time, it feels like the U.S. is under verbal attack by her own citizens. Criticism is definitely not a bad thing for a country; criticism fuels progress of any sort. However, I notice that in these attacks, only the negatives get mentioned until the entire conversation has just spiraled into one big “Debbie Downer” moment.
Please do not mistake my disappointment about focusing on the negatives as my overlooking the negatives in America’s past. I do not brush over Japanese internment, civil rights struggles suffered by many minorities, or the lack of peace we have experienced; however, I will always celebrate (and I will loudly celebrate) the way this country welcomed and provided opportunities for my family, the freedom I have here to be who I am to the fullest degree, and the crazy-cool accomplishments and discoveries we make as a society daily. I can learn from the past and still appreciate the amazing accomplishments experienced by this nation. As my brother so eloquently stated:
Yes America has skeletons in the closet but should we judge everyone by the negatives in our lives or pasts? No, of course we shouldn’t. We should focus on the great things the people who live in this amazing country have done, and the freedom that has allowed them to do it. For example: Jonas Salk eradicating polio and not taking a cent for it, Abraham Lincoln standing up against slavery, Susan B. Anthony and others fighting for women’s suffrage, the countless soldiers that liberated the death camps in WWII, the beautiful photos that Ansel Adams took, putting Neil Armstrong on the moon, electing our first president who happens to be a minority, the Wright brothers pioneering flight etc. The list goes on and on of the great things that America and Americans have accomplished and reducing our great history to a few negative moments really serves to belittle everything that we as a country have accomplished.