The Man Who Was Grateful

by David Bergman

He had a hard time being grateful,
but maybe gratitude shouldn’t be easy.

It certainly shouldn’t come as easily as it does
to those who arrive at work with spirits

undampened even by torrential rain,
or those who refuse to resent

the fools promoted over them,
and instead of marching straight down to HR

and lodging a complaint, leave the office
wishing everyone “a blesséd day.”

Sure, he’s grateful for how much he’s paid—
he’s not complaining—but he’s earned it.

But then there’s his executive assistant,
who on the same day she returns her son to rehab

finds that her husband has gone off to Trinidad
with their life’s savings in tow,

and all she can say—and it broke his heart to hear it—
is that we’re all in God’s hands. God’s hands?

Those hands couldn’t pick out a tune
on a player piano.

True, misfortune can’t be avoided—
the stray tumor, the drunk driver

running the red light into the passenger seat.
Those are losses already built into

the actuarial tables of life,
the expected range of pain and bliss

calculated in advance for persons of his age
class, race, and religious affiliation,

Gratitude is not a contractual agreement.
It demands the unexpected, the undeserved,

as when a man, no longer a stranger, allows
others to share the warmth of his body,

or as today, when a young activist
seated beside him at lunch, a man

in possession of the world’s most beautiful eyes,
ring upon ring of amber and gold, eyes all

the more haunting because of the plainness
of his face and the weediness of his dark

beard and the Blakean depths
of his passion for justice and equality,

who urges in a calm and reassuring voice
two well-meaning women to join him

in solidarity at the demonstration that night
in front of city hall; yes, it takes such a man,

turning unexpectedly in his direction
and spontaneously inviting him,

with the simple “You come too,” to open
his bewildered heart and suddenly

find within himself the generosity
to almost rise up and march along.

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