Can I openly say, ‘In everything, give thanks?’

Column by Jim Bishop

“And I think to myself
what a wonderful world . . .”
-Louis Armstrong (1963)

What a breathtaking, surprising experience early Monday morning.

I was still struggling to defrost my bleary-eyed vision while motoring in my Miata to start another work week after another blur of a weekend.

The vehicle moved stealthily up the sloping pavement of Rt. 33, headed east past Weavers Mennonite Church. What to my bloodshot eyes should appear in CinemaScope and Technicolor at the crest but a panoramic view of pictorial splendor, a Massanutten peak experience of the first order.

It immediately dawned on me, so to speak, that I “happened” to have my camera in the car. It wasn’t an opportune moment to stop and snap away. By the time I found a safe spot to pull off the road with an unobstructed view of the mountain range, the brilliant color had begun to fade.

Nonetheless, I took several shots and went on my way, a sense of rejuvenation in my being, and it was only 7:20 a.m.

I had a great day – for a Monday – thanks to this unexpected visual reminder of the resplendent beauty of the Shenandoah Valley, something I take too much for granted, even though this has been home for some 39 years.

Isn’t this how life often plays out? I dutifully plod along, pursuing my vocational tasks and other daily responsibilities while failing to appreciate the stimuli that contribute in many ways to my happiness and well-being – until the unexpected stops me in my tracks.

In this case, the unanticipated was most welcomed. Too often, recognizing what I have and giving thanks anew for manifold blessings and privileges comes to the fore only upon hearing bad news or by being asked how I respond to losing something of value or someone close to me.

“You don’t know what you’ve got until you lose it,” an old Ral Donner ditty rightly observes.

In this season of Thanksgiving – which should last all year round – I want to rekindle my desire to maintain an attitude of gratitude that is fueled by:

– A heightened awareness of my affluence, not in an economic sense, although that depends on whom I compare myself to, but in gifts bestowed on me and in a rich storehouse of relationships. I receive so much more than I deserve and need to acknowledge and give thanks for that reality every day.

– A recognition that daily gratitude is engaged by faith, hope and charity.

I have been the beneficiary of unconditional love – from parents and extended family, my spouse and from my Creator – and because of that it behooves me to focus on the good things surrounding me, including

unexpected sterling sunrises, to speak well of others when they’re not around, to offer verbal and literal bouquets without waiting for a funeral.

As I write this, word comes of the death of a relative, Stan Bishop, 69, of Long Island, N.Y. It made me especially sad, in part because it’s the first death among 19 Bishop first cousins, and I find it hard to conceive of family getting together without “Big Stan” in our midst, such as the next “ScrappleFest” event in March 2010. We will place an empty chair at the table for him.

But even as I mourn with his family, I can choose to recall and to celebrate good memories of Stan, of his significant life and the many lives he touched and brightened personally and professionally as a veteran high school English teacher.

Even despite grief, much joy comes in the morning … including a startling stellar mountain sunrise.

Amid good times and bad, births and deaths, sickness and health, growth and setbacks, I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

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