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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Living From the Grateful Side of the Ledger

Thanksgiving Day somehow brings to mind one of one of my late uncles, Moses Nisly.

Mose, one of my mom's older brothers, lived at our house for an extended period of time as I was growing up. Never married, he spent most of his life in the homes of various of his siblings, and when he could no longer support himself, some of his ten living brothers and sisters took turns taking him in and taking care of him.

Uncle Mose was somewhat mentally challenged, the result of a high fever he experienced with a case of meningitis in his childhood, we were told. Actually, no one talked much about his childhood in our family, but there were numerous stories told about his eccentric traits as an adult.

For instance, Mose was incredibly tight with his money. He even resisted having his everyday work clothes washed regularly, fearing they would wear out sooner as a result. Then there was the story about how he lamented the cost of shipping his favorite rocking chair by rail from Iowa to Virginia when he came to live with us. He was outraged by the railroad company charging him what they did since, as he reasoned, “the train was making the trip here anyway!”

Another of Moses’ traits was absentmindedness. He was constantly forgetting where he had put things, then blaming others for having misplaced or taken them. All of this added to his generally unhappy and negative outlook on life, and to seeing himself as a victim.

In spite of his general forgetfulness, though, there was one category of memories Mose could recall in the greatest of detail. He could cite with ease example after example of people who had mistreated him throughout his life. When I heard Garrison Keillor once describing some people as having “Irish Alzheimer's,” a condition that results in people “forgetting everything but their grievances,” I immediately thought of my uncle.

But we can learn from people like that, realize how important it is to wrap lots of gratitude around us every day of our lives. Unlike Mose, we can practice living from the assets side of our memory ledger rather than the debit side.

To a great extent, our emotional and spiritual health depends on how we do our mental bookkeeping, whether we make generous deposits in our inner savings account, and whether we then live out of a sense of abundance rather than in a constant state of victimhood and scarcity.
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