One Thanksgiving, a 10-year-old boy waited patiently as his grandfather blessed the food. Grandpa not only blessed the food, but he also uttered a list of things he was thankful for. The list seemed endlessly long to the little boy, who kept opening his eyes to see if anyone else was doing the same. He was so fidgety he could hardly hold still. He was also really hungry. Grandpa’s list of things he was thankful for included:
- The family he was blessed to have, particularly his grandchildren
- His family’s health
- The harvest of crops
- The blessing of his daughter’s pregnancy (and the fact that she was naming her baby boy after him)
- Good neighbors
- His country and those who gave their all for it
- The leaders in government
- His old farm truck (which was on its last leg)
- His church pastor
- The widow who lived at the end of the lane who, despite not having much, always shared her fresh vegetables
After dinner, the little boy asked Grandpa if they could talk. “Of course,” said Grandpa. They went into the garage where Grandpa had his tools and spent so much time. The boy said, “Grandpa, why do you pray so long?”
Grandpa smiled and replied, “Does it seem like a long time to you?”
“Well, kind of,” his grandson said.
“Some things never change,” Grandpa told him. “Good friends, our love for our family, and the freedom we enjoy. When you are as old as I am, your list will be just as long. I’m thankful for all of these things, so I include each one in my prayer.”
Then, Grandpa became quite serious, got up from his chair, and went over to his tool bench. Above it, there were rows of shelves. He got a small stepladder and climbed up until he retrieved an old, green metal box covered with dust. He took a rag and wiped away the dust, then carefully opened the box. Inside were old letters, medals, some old maps, and other items.
“These are some of the things I brought back from World War II when I was a soldier,” Grandpa said. His hands carefully sorted through them, inviting a flood of memories.
They were both silent for several minutes before Grandpa came close to the boy and sat down. “I have something for you,” he said. “Maybe it will help you understand why my prayers are so long.”
He placed a small metal item in the boy’s hand and told him it was a lighter. “I don’t smoke anymore,” Grandpa said, “but in the Army I did.”
On the front of the lighter was an insignia, which Grandpa said represented his Army unit. On the back of the lighter was a dent—almost a hole, except that it had not gone through the other side.
“This was one of the luckiest days of my life,” Grandpa said, pointing out the dent. “We were fighting the enemy deep in the forests of Poland. It was really cold, and everyone was dug down in their foxholes.”
“What happened Grandpa?” the boy asked. “And what’s a foxhole?”
“A foxhole is a hole we would dig in the ground so that one or two of us could get in and hide from the enemy,” Grandpa said. “It was really hard to dig because the ground was frozen.”
“One morning, at first light, a couple of us got out of our foxholes and scouted around to see if any of our buddies had been shot during the night. That’s when I heard rifle fire. I got hit and knocked off my feet. My chest really hurt, and my buddy helped me back to my foxhole.
“We peeled off my layers of clothing, including my thick, heavy wool coat. An enemy bullet had gone through all my layers of clothing until it finally hit my lighter, which was in my shirt pocket. That little lighter saved my life.
“For years I carried it with me to remind me how lucky I was, and how thankful I was for life itself. Sometimes, when I was feeling a little down, I would rub my fingers across the smooth surface and feel the huge dent the bullet had left. It reminded me of all the things I had to be thankful for.
“Now, I want you to have it. And, I want you to remember that you always have something to be thankful for. Gratitude is one of the most important things in life. If we go through life without being thankful, we have missed out on the blessings of life itself. When you’re feeling down, I want you to rub your thumb across that old lighter and think of all the things you have to be thankful for, and all the people that love you.”
This Thanksgiving, or any other time you want a little perspective on gratitude, try taking a few minutes to visit a nursing home. Ask the wonderful people living there what they are thankful for and what matters most to them. Ask them what they treasure. Ask them where they would spend their time if they could spend it again.
If that fails, remember Grandpa’s list and a lighter that stopped a bullet.
And if that doesn’t work, remember: You can spend your life resenting your bald spot, or be glad that you have a head.