Editor’s note: This article originally ran in November 2019.
Whenever I think of giving thanks, I think of what in this life makes me whole, and I think of all the people I’m unable to properly thank. Maybe that says more about my mind than it does about gratitude, but I often find myself struggling to adequately thank those I am forever indebted to or those who have already passed on.
I also think of the many people Christ healed, and of the 10 lepers in particular. In Samaria and Galilee, 10 lepers were cleansed after being told to show themselves to the priest. Only one turned to glorify God in a loud voice, falling down at the feet of Jesus, on his face, giving thanks. Jesus asks, “Were there not ten cleansed?” (Luke 17:17), and yet, only one gives thanks. Jesus tells the one to go on his way and that his faith has made him whole.
The thankful leper’s reward for gratitude? Knowledge of why he was made whole: Faith. The others left without that foundational word, without that moment with Christ acknowledging the secret to greater happiness for a lifetime to come. Faith. I think there is much more hiding in that moment than is often attributed to this small, quiet gesture in another grand story of Jesus’ mercy. We focus on the ungrateful dismissiveness of the other nine instead of what Jesus says to the one and how that moment helps make the man whole for life—not for the leprous sores alone.
One experience, in particular, comes to mind whenever I think about gratitude and learning what has made me whole. I visited Yad Vashem in Israel 10 years ago. Thunder boomed over the Holocaust memorial museum that afternoon as I made some interesting discoveries.
- Defuse literally means to “de-thunder”—to take the thunder out of something. Did you know that workers in France, London, Japan, and Berlin are still defusing bombs from World War II? And they say there are thousands left in the soil. Over 2.5 million tons of bombs were dropped on Europe between 1940 and 1945—10 percent of those bombs failed to explode.
- The sound from an explosion is referred to as a report. An explosion, or a sudden loud crack followed by silence, is a combination of all frequencies in the audible range. A chord is a combination of select frequencies—like the chords in Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons or Mahler’s Symphony No. 2. It’s that silence following the crack that I find interesting—without it, we don’t have a full audible range.
In that silence after the thunder outside, I came upon a black and white photo of three scientists standing behind large bombs. I read the plaque below and learned that these bombs were made by Jewish engineers forced by the Nazis to create or die, to kill their people or be killed, to complete the audible range for thousands still wanting to sing their various chords and not yet ready for the silence. Rain hit the massive bay windows of the museum. As I thought of this analogy of sound, I remembered that sound travels greater distances in rain—it’s all that density rippling the sky. Sound has to travel through something, or it can’t exist. That’s why there is no sound in space—no molecules to move through, to vibrate, to consume.
An old man and his wife walked up to the picture, and the man started to cry. I asked for their forgiveness because I was obscuring their view and began to walk away, but the woman grabbed my arm and said, “Stay.” And then silence. And then, “Listen.”
She touched her husband on the arm. His English was broken, but sincere and earnest. He told me he was at the center of the photograph, and the only one of the three scientists still living. His wife smeared the tears on his face with a handkerchief as he spoke, but he didn’t seem to notice or care. “But,” he said, waving his finger, “not one worked. We made sure of it.” He pointed at the bombs after he said that. Then he smiled.
I didn’t know what to say to this man. He hugged me. I didn’t feel I deserved that; I was just visiting to learn. But I did feel that the closer I got to his story, the closer I got to him, the slower and more methodically my memory worked to preserve that moment. I wanted to remember it so I could point to a specific moment when saying “thank you” to all those who fought, and all those who still fight, to defuse bombs of every kind, be they physical or mental, emotional or social, cultural or religious.
By enacting gratitude, I feel that some staying power is given to those moments that make us whole. I feel that the act of bowing at the feet of those we owe so much is a way of preserving faith in humanity. So I will continue to fall on my face and give thanks on the very soil where thousands of tons of bombs still sit—full of chemicals looking for a reaction—and have faith that the bomb below me was made by this very man. It won’t work. He made sure of it. And I am sure of that.
The world says we can’t hear silence. They say self-interest drives us. They say good can’t win. They say faith is not enough. They say some storms are too big. They say a lot. But the size of the storm doesn’t seem to matter much when you have someone on your side able to steal the very thunder from the sky.