(Have you noticed I start nearly every post with an anecdote? I’m disturbed to discover I don’t know how to begin explaining something without sharing my context. I’m sure its a character flaw somehow. In any event, I wrote this post about a year ago to put up at my non-blog, but decided…eh…no one reads that shit anyway. But since I have the opportunity to inflict one last philosophical post on you guys…I’m going to share it here.)
To me, the concept of gratitude is inextricably linked with the Christian sect I abandoned years ago. As part of our religious practice, I was compelled to write a list each week of the things for which I was grateful. At the time we were poor, periodically homeless in a rural stretch of the bible belt. I was young living with untreated asthma and chronic bronchitis.
I was not grateful.
But, as I was taught, God required gratitude. He was God, we were pots…commence bowing and scraping, otherwise Remember Job! It wasn’t clear to me then what more the Head Sky Cheese could take away, but in an abundance of caution, I dutifully made a list every Saturday night. I practiced gratitude to appease those with power…to ensure power was aware that I knew my place.
Last Saturday, I met with a client over at McDs. The details are unimportant, but I had happy news. The orgs working on her case had been able to remove an impediment that was preventing her from obtaining emergency housing for herself and her daughter. In fact, Mr. Kristen had twisted some arms and gotten the property manager to come out on a weekend to sign the necessary paperwork so they could move in immediately. While I drove my client and her daughter to pick up their belongings, Mr. Kristen coordinated with the orgs to have linens, groceries, and even a few toys and videos delivered. For once, the process worked exactly as we envisioned.
I bring up the success of this effort because usually by the time we’ve reached this point in the process I’m pissed off and apologizing for the continual fuck ups. But this time, I was probably beaming with happiness.
After seeing them settled in Mr Kristen and I started heading for the door. My client moved to get up and I waived her back down and said I’d lock up on the way out. And then she said “I wouldn’t want you to think we were ungrateful.”
Wham…like a stack of bricks.
She’s exhausted, stressed, near to dropping with relief. She’s left her home, her belongings. She doesn’t have a job. Beyond the tiny cash envelop in her kitchen, she didn’t have any real means to care for her self or her daughter.
And yet she felt the need to be grateful. To express gratitude in case we might somehow take offense if she failed to do so.
Or to be more precise fuck the socially mandated expressions of gratitude (Not nearly as catchy). Fuck the idea that people should ever have to bow and scrape for the simple necessities of life. For a safe place to live or food to eat. Fuck the idea that when we “help” them get those things that they are entitled to that we deserve anything in return.
These socially mandated expressions are nothing more than one more way society demonstrates who is more important. The working poor should be grateful they get to keep the money they have. Women should be grateful for male attention. Mr Kristen should be grateful he wasn’t arrested when he refused to provide his birth certificate. And we should all be grateful God doesn’t kill our entire family just to win an argument.
So yeah, fuck gratitude.
I spoke to my now former client a few months ago when Jill asked me to guest blog. I didn’t want to include this post without confirming with her my experience of what happened and getting her permission. She read a (slightly different) version of the post and agreed with this interpretation.