When the Sky is Not Falling

–The time for gratitude is when nothing is going wrong

It’s 8:05 Saturday morning.

I’m enjoying the quiet, a good book, and my morning tea.

That’s when I hear it. And feel it.

A low rumbling, a shudder, a muffled thunk.

I get up and looked out through the patio window.

A massive branch has broken off our giant elm tree. It is now covering a third of our yard. The swing set our granddaughters had played on days earlier is bent in the middle as if it were a pipe cleaner.

That swing set has stood beneath that tree for 27 years. I installed it myself. Now I’ll be hiring someone else to remove it.

The air was perfectly calm that morning. Several weeks of storms had downed trees all over our neighborhood, which I wrote about recently in my column for Fast Company. We had been hit repeatedly by gale force winds and diluvian downpours. It had taken weeks for the city to clear the debris off the streets. The mighty elm had withstood it all. Until, for no apparent reason, its largest branch simply broke loose and plummeted to the earth.

I mentioned it to my good friend, Scott, a retired cardiologist. He told me he knew several people killed by falling timber and had narrowly escaped injury or death himself one day while walking his dog when a limb struck the sidewalk three feet behind him.

Just last month, a neighbor was sitting at his dining room table — just as I had been. He got up from his chair and then, literally moments later, a falling tree tore through his roof and landed on the exact spot where he had been sitting.

We make a terrible mistake when we take our own well-being for granted.

In our daily liturgy, we praise the Almighty as our King, Helper, Rescuer, and Shield.

What’s the significance of these different descriptors?

  • A king directs his kingdom unseen, working through the agency of ministers, officers, judges, and officials. The public rarely sees the king involved in governing at all. But everything that happens in the kingdom is the king’s responsibility and carries the king’s stamp of authority.
  • helper assists us in our efforts. We might be able to do some, much, or most of the job ourselves. But we all need assistance. Even when it looks like we’re independent, we need to recognize the forces without which we could not succeed.
  • A rescuer, or savior, comes when we have gotten ourselves into a fix and can’t get ourselves out. Sometimes it’s obvious we need help. Those times are when it’s easy to be grateful.
  • A shield protects us from dangers so that we may never see them threatening us.

You miss a red light, saving you from being broadsided by an inattentive truck driver two blocks away. Your alarm clock fails to go off, so you miss an interview for a job that would have made your life hell. You fall and break your leg, as one gentleman did, which made him late for work in the Twin Towers on the morning of September 11, 2001.

Any one of us could find ourselves standing under a falling tree limb, could board an ill-fated passenger plane, could be swept away in a flash flood, could be swallowed up by a sinkhole that opens beneath our feet.

We expect the world to operate in a predictable, orderly way. It usually does; except when it doesn’t.

That’s why gratitude is always in order. Even when everything goes as expected.

Especially when everything goes as expected.

Why am I so grateful?

  • The whole tree didn’t come down; just one branch.
  • No one was standing underneath it.
  • The kids weren’t playing on the swing set.
  • The swingset served us for over a quarter century.
  • If not for the damage to the swingset, insurance would not have covered the tree removal. Now it will cover replacing the swingset as well.

Now I just need to remind myself to be grateful after the tree removal company carts away the branch.

Perhaps the new swingset will help me remember.

Perhaps if we all practiced being grateful more often, we’d find less cause to complain, less cause to be bitter, and less cause to fight with each other over all the problems that aren’t as bad as we make them out to be.

What do you have to be grateful for?


Yonason Goldson
Yonason Goldson
Yonason Goldson works with business leaders to build a culture of ethics, setting higher standards to earn loyalty and trust. He’s a rabbinic scholar, repentant hitchhiker, and co-host of the weekly podcast “The Rabbi and the Shrink.” He has published hundreds of articles applying ancient wisdom to the challenges of the modern world, and six books, most recently “Grappling with the Gray: an ethical handbook for personal success and business prosperity.” The ninja were covert agents in feudal Japan who practiced espionage, deception, and surprise attacks. Doesn't that make Ethics Ninja a contradiction in terms? Not at all. Just as the master of martial arts turns an opponent’s strength against himself, the Ethics Ninja turns attacks against moral values back against the adversaries of ethics, exposing groupthink and double-standards through rational argument in asymmetrical battle to vanquish the enemies of moral clarity.

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