By CHUCK AUST, Commentary | Published August 3, 2018
The amazing cave rescue of the Thai boys and their soccer coach left me in awe of the many brave people involved in the undaunted efforts made to save those young lives. Expert rescue divers risked their lives; sadly, one gave his own. People came from near and far to the cave site to pray, form relay teams to move supplies across rugged terrain, provide medical support and stand side-by-side with the parents and loved ones to help maintain their hope during the agonizing wait, while the divers searched for, discovered and then rescued the soccer team.
Though everyday acts of help are less dramatic and not likely to make headlines, we are all recipients of both valiant and routine efforts made by others to help us. The list is long.
I think of the priests, religious and teachers who guided us and continue to guide our spiritual formation and education. There are those who provide aid with our health concerns—doctors, nurses, counselors, hospital social workers, lab technicians, administrative staff, medical researchers and many others behind the scenes.
Perhaps first and foremost to remember are the parents and family and others who nurtured us in those tender first years of life. The list is long.
An apt label came into common use after the September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and the Pentagon. That term, “first responders,” captures well the many brave and generous people who rush toward danger and cries for help. Law enforcement, fire and emergency medical personnel, good Samaritans who seek to help all come to mind, as well as our active-duty military and veterans who sacrifice in many and varied ways. That list is long.
Consider the journalists, videographers and photographers who dramatically risk their lives or slog through the tedious routine of sourcing and fact-checking to get us the best available version of the truth at the moment. I’m thinking not of those who seek their own fame and fortune or have a political agenda, but of the ones who make sincere efforts for the sake of a well-informed democracy. We also benefit from civil servants who govern at the local, state and national level to maintain the common good, risking criticism (and, sadly, sometimes verbal and physical abuse) to make the at-times difficult decisions for the greatest good of the constituents they have committed themselves to serve. Also in that arena are those who work for peace and justice. That list is long.
Even less likely to make headlines but vital to our ability to thrive from day to day are the unsung heroes who maintain our infrastructures so we can get on with our lives. The electrical line workers, water (and sewer) system workers, the truckers who get the food from farm to store, and, oh yes, the farmers! We can’t forget the farmers. I’ll stop there but, again, the list is long, isn’t it?
I hope these reminders stir memories of many particular people who have helped you along the way, for whom you have deep gratitude. I pray that your list is long. And chances are you are on some other people’s gratitude lists, too. Forgive me if I have missed a category of persons who have been vital in your life’s journey. But if as you read this you have been reminded of those persons and felt gratitude for them, that’s a good thing.
Gratitude is comforting and healing. At the same time, none of us, whether young or old, can think of and name every single person who would be on our “thankful” list, even though we might wish. There are just too many. I believe that prayer can help us with this in at least two ways.
The Mass gives us a way to acknowledge and express our dependence on and deep gratitude toward God and one another. The word we use to name this, Eucharist, is from the Greek for thanksgiving. In the Mass we give thanks, powerfully, to God.
My second thought about prayer comes from the “New Saint Joseph People’s Prayer Book,” which contains a “Prayer for Benefactors.” In part, the prayer says:
“Heavenly Father, I ask You to pour out Your blessings on all those who have helped me along life’s way, whether I am aware of their contributions or not … Grant Your blessing to all of them whether they are living or dead, and bring them all into the glorious light of your eternal Kingdom.”
It’s amazing how much we depend on one another from day to day. Whether the acts are high profile and garner extensive media coverage like the cave rescue in Thailand or are known to but a few, we can practice gratitude for the many blessings and graces bestowed on us by the common and uncommon loving acts of service done for our benefit.
The list is long.
Chuck Aust, Ph.D., is a professor of media studies in the School of Communication and Media at Kennesaw State University. He is a parishioner at St. Joseph Church, Marietta.