I recently had the opportunity to preach in our school’s annual Thanksgiving Eucharist. It is difficult, every year, to come up with new and striking ways of communicating a similar message, the message of gratitude. But this year I was fortunate to come across Diana Butler Bass’ excellent book Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks, which provided more than enough novelty for the occasion.
One of the most useful metaphors Bass uses is that of headwinds and tailwinds. “Headwinds” are those moments or seasons in life that offer us resistance, that are difficult to go up against; the “tailwinds” are the invisible blessings that we take for granted every day. As Bass points out, we tend to notice the headwinds in our lives, but not so much the tailwinds. And upon further reflection, if we are not careful, we overestimate our own strength and power in overcoming the headwinds of the past, forgetting the tailwinds that propelled us forward the entire time.
The difference between the two is one of perception. Noticing and appreciating the tailwinds becomes the key to a life of gratitude, as Brother David Steindl-Rast shows in his pithy summation “stop, look, go.” When we stop, we literally cease our busyness to look, to perceive, to appreciate what is present before us. There is an opportunity there, Brother David notes, an opportunity for gratitude in each moment. And then we can “go,” making the choice to be grateful, not always for the moment itself, but within the moment.
Noticing tailwinds is kind of like the difference between being sick and being well. We don’t notice our wellness, we notice our sickness. When we are well, we are riding a tailwind; we don’t awake every morning we are well and notice the absence of sickness. But when we are sick, we pay attention to the body and its deficiencies. And if we are not careful, we begin to believe we are entitled to the tailwinds we’ve been ignoring all along.
Yet if we start to notice all the tailwinds in our lives, we also notice that they are not things that we necessarily created or control. A life of gratitude realizes that we are dependent on so many other people for everything it takes to get through just one day, and dependent on God our Creator, who gives us the gift of life, and breath, and everything else that we have.
It is certainly easy, in our school contexts, to notice headwinds. It’s even easy to make our entire school life revolve around them. After all, most meetings exist purely to discuss headwinds — challenges, difficulties, and the means of overcoming them. The squeaky wheel gets the grease; the challenging student (or colleague) commands our attention, while those who quietly and diligently work are ignored.
Through chapel services, classroom exercises, regular prayer, and other means, however, we can remind ourselves frequently of the tailwinds behind us — our families, our friends, our teachers, our religious communities, the beauty of creation — all of which contribute in immensely positive ways to the lives of our schools. Stopping, looking, and going leads to a recognition of God’s innumerable blessings, and ultimately, a life of gratitude, for ourselves and the schools we serve.
About the Author
Andrew D. Armond, Ph.D. is the Upper and Middle School Chaplain at Episcopal School of Acadiana, a PK3-12 school in Lafayette, Louisiana, where he teaches 8th grade religion, world religions, philosophy, and Dante. He is a former English professor, now a candidate for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church, to be ordained in December, 2019. Andrew can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.