The statement, “I do,” in a wedding ceremony assumes a kind of granting of our entire being to another. It doesn’t take long in a marriage to feel taken for granted in the relationship because, indeed, each one is “granted,” by mutual agreement. In the light of this, what does it really mean in a marital relationship when one says, “You take me for granted”? It means, “You don’t appreciate me.” In other words, it’s fine to be taken for granted so long as there is a deeply felt appreciation coming from the other.
And appreciation is much more than just an occasional “thank you” or a random compliment. It is an abiding and unshakable attitude. I have a close friend with early onset Alzheimer’s. Even at his worst, he is always able to say of his wife, even if he can’t remember her name, “That one there is a good woman.” This conviction, ebbing so freely from his disabled brain, makes his wife know she is appreciated. Thus, being “taken for granted” as caretaker spouses so often are, becomes tolerable because of her husband’s deeply engrained appreciation of her as a person. Gratitude is easy when we look at our husbands or wives as gifts to us on a daily basis.
The same principle is true in child-parent relationships. Nothing warms a parent’s heart more than to receive expressions of gratitude from his or her children. Gratitude often seems to be a natural response that gets dulled as we grow older. I recently heard a story about a child just under two who was more or less apologetic for a having a poopy diaper. As the diaper was being changed, the baby looked into the eyes of the one doing the dirty duty and said, “Thank you.” That is a touching story because the child did not take anything for granted, but appreciated being cared for.
Brother Dave Gardner, the late country comedian, used to say, “Gratitude is riches and complaint is poverty.” There is a great truth embedded in that statement. The more grateful we are for our possessions, for our friends and family, our spouses, the beauties of nature, our very lives, the richer we are. Likewise, when we begin to complain about anything, our worn out cars, a perceived insult, a family member doing wrong, bad weather, and some would even go so far to complain about ever being born, the poorer we become.
Henry David Thoreau wrote that our riches are defined by what we can do without. To a certain degree I agree with that old precursor to hippies. We certainly don’t need all the accouterments to life that the media bombards us with. But we do need gratitude and the more of it we have the richer we become. It is lovely when we hear people say of a deceased loved one, “He (or she) lived a good long life and we are grateful to have had him (her) with us for as long as we did.”