I have had the pleasure of spending the last few New Year's celebrations at an Ideas Conference in Charleston. The gathering has become one of my favorite events of the year: the open, honest discussions and the candid exploration of ideas and beliefs make it a truly inspirational weekend.
The people that organize this gathering do so much to foster the environment for this unfettered exchange. It is not intellectual discourse, it is not networking, it's the wonderful place in between.
One of my favorite sessions at the conference is "My Final Words." Apart from it being held at 10 in the morning on New Year's Day, everything about this session is great. The selected speakers talk about their thoughts on the weekend, they reflect on life and love, discuss losses they experienced, or any other final thoughts they feel like sharing with the audience. Many share their deep and personal thoughts; typically uplifting and oftentimes bringing the audience to tears.
I've often thought about what I would say if asked to speak at this session. First, I would decline - the call time is just too early in the morning for me on New Year's Day! That aside, I think I would say to the group what I say every night: thank you.
Even though I am Jewish, and it's not a part of Jewish practice, every night before I go to sleep I get down on my knees beside my bed, I look up into the darkness and I thank God (or whoever lives in the apartment above me) for everything I have been given. I don't pray for things, or ask God for help or for guidance; that hardly seems fair. Instead, I use the time to be thankful and reflect on how fortunate I am.
My Final Words would encourage everyone gathered at the conference, all these wonderful people from so many different aspects of society, to bend their knees before their higher power each night and say thank you. I am sure everyone there is keenly aware of how fortunate they are, but there is something very humbling about the act of saying thank you.
The act of saying thank you inherently recognizes that it could all be taken away. But for the Grace of God our loved ones arrive home safe. But for the Grace of God we have our health. But for the Grace of God our prosperity is maintained. But for the Grace of God our country remains secure.
I would tell this group how powerful this practice has become in my life. I would reflect on a trip many years ago where engine trouble sent the plane into a nosedive. I would tell this group how everyone on the plane was screaming in horror and pleading with God to save them. I would tell them how I calmly looked around, smiled and then looked up and just said thank you. I had no control over the event and if God determined that I would say my final words there and then, then I would express how grateful I was for the journey I was allowed to take. Nothing more, nothing less, just thank you.
Thank you for everything you have given me. Thank you for my wonderful family. Thank you for keeping me healthy. Thank you for what you have allowed me to achieve. Thank you for letting me be born in this country. Thank you.