This Christmas, we're getting guns.
Okay, that's a crappy lead in. But I once heard that in journalism school, they teach you to start with a short, provocative sentence to grip the reader, so I thought I'd give it a try.
Yes, we're getting guns. Simply put, I have one kid who wants to shoot targets, and another who wants to hunt. In some ways, we're preparing for the inevitable zombie apocalypse and need to be able to practice our double tap. In others, we're wondering what happens if the country declares bankruptcy, I lose my job, and we have to eat squirrels and rabbits and such. And yet another reason - if you've ever fired a weapon on a range at a target, you know how challenging and fun it can be. So, we're getting guns.
This past weekend, we toddled off to the gun store to see if we could find ones that the boys would be able to handle. The store was packed with people, and the line at the gun counter was several people deep. When it was our turn, young Levi behind the counter showed us several different types of rifles and pistols with great patience and humor and gentle pointers. Of course, we weren't actually buying the guns that day, just looking, which made the fact that he spent 30 minutes with us pretty amazing. When we were done, and Levi thanked us for coming by, I pulled out an old phrase that I thought I'd abandoned years ago:
"Guys, what do you say to Levi?"
The words almost made me throw up before they even came out.
As a child, there were few things that rankled me more than receiving a gift or kindness from someone, and then having a well-meaning parent place a firm hand upon my shoulder and and say "Now, what do you say?" When I was very young, it seemed like an impossible quiz; it was clear that there was one right answer and about ten thousand wrong ones, so my chances of doing well were pretty slim. As I grew, and learned that the right answer was "thank you," I spat it out quickly and with as much honesty as I could muster so I could avoid the firm hand and gritted message.
With reflection, I'm pretty sure that I was thankful on many of the times I said "thank you," but also sure that I said it more often as a reflex than as a genuine sign of appreciation. Even today, I probably say "please" and "thank you" more than any adult I know. That's not a bad thing, obviously, as it really is a small kindness that is easy to give and can have great impact. But I do sometimes wonder if a life so liberally sprinkled with "thank yous" is really a life of gratitude, or simply a trained response to conditioning.
When it comes to my children, I know that they are grateful for many, many things - I can see it in their eyes and smiles, and hear it in their laughter. The truth is, they say "please" and "thank you" when they mean it, which is actually pretty regularly. Just knowing that they are grateful for many things led me to spend some time this morning considering what I am grateful for, right here, right now, in this time a space, in stream of consciousness mode.
I am grateful for friends who accept my quirks and moods and limitations, who sometimes get frustrated and shake their heads and yet still keep coming back for more - or allowing me to come back for more, more accurately.
I am grateful that I have a job, especially one that pays me fairly well and requires little of me outside of normal working hours.
I am grateful that I have a wife who lets me dream, deals with the procrastinations and half-filled ideas, still smiles at me even though she thinks I'm crazy.
I am grateful that I regularly come into contact with people whose own experiences and difficulties allow me to appreciate the blessings I have, and whose abiliy to handle their difficulties with grace and humility inspire me to do the same.
I am grateful for my step-mother, who cared for my father for several years before his recent death, bringing him love and comfort when he needed it most.
I am grateful for the time I was able to spend with my father, and for the realization that it wasn't enough, and for the changes that will help me make with my own children.
I am grateful that my father knew what he was doing, and was smarter than I realized.
I am grateful to the people who made "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Love, Actually."
I am grateful that, when I put on an old Veggie Tales video recently, both boys eventually came out to watch - and even asked me to rewind a part or two.
I am grateful that the heat comes on in my house when I turn it on, that the faucet works, that the bathtub drains, and that I have friends to call when none of that happens.
I am grateful that I can still cry a good cry when I need to, and still laugh a good laugh when I want to. Emotions are proof that we're paying attention.
I am grateful that my kids seem to still want me around.
I am grateful that other kids want me around, too.
I am grateful for the computer that I'm typing this on.
And I am grateful for literally thousands of other things right now, things that seem too trivial to mention but which help define me and the way I see the world. It's a good life, warts and all.