Writing Gratitude

St Bavo in Haarlem

Remember Manners 101? In case you’ve forgotten, it was probably the first course you ever took. And it went something like this: after giving you something, an afternoon snack or whatever, your parent or sibling or teacher would also give a test, something like a predictable pop quiz. “Now what do you say…?” they would ask imploringly. The correct answer was always the same two words: “thank you.”

Last summer I worked at America Magazine, the weekly publication of the Jesuits in the United States. While there, I had the chance to say thank you – albeit in a wordier way – to Joanna E. Ziegler, my late friend and former art history professor at the College of the Holy Cross. I was a freshman when she asked me to look at this painting (and only that painting!) for thirteen weeks.

Maybe such a project seems as crazy to you now as it did to me then, but as I try to explain in a short article published in the latest issue of America, by forcing me to take my time and really look Professor Ziegler taught me about contemplation. She taught me about prayer.

With time, I think, we can come to know gratitude as more than just words said upon getting something we want. Sometimes we experience the most gratitude for stuff (people, events, things) that come into our lives unexpectedly, stuff that we never knew we wanted or needed in the first place. Another word for that phenomenon is “grace.” And it’s in our awareness of those times that gratitude can become something we feel and live in addition to something we express in words.

Thank you, Professor Ziegler.

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