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  • Karl Thunemann

Came in through the Backroom Window

Somehow, I neglected to include Gratitude as a bead in my initial loving-kindness devotions. When I chanted with my seven-segmented meditation, it felt satisfying and challenging. But still, something was missing.

Shouldn’t I say something about being—becoming—grateful? I knew it was an important virtue, one in which I was a bit lacking. My wife sometimes complained that I had a touch of dysthymia. I would mount a half-hearted protest, but deep down I thought it might be a shortage of gratitude that kept me from rising out of the depths. And here was an excellent spot for it, next to last, right between May I Be at Peace and May I Be Joyful. Here could be a powerful trio to round out my meditation: All areas in which I definitely could benefit from improvement.

So I started including May I Be Grateful. The intent was right, but literary fussiness caused me to stumble. There was something that smacked of a spiritual vaudeville show. And now the -Ful sisters will take us out. Take us away, Gracie and Joy! It lacked in creativity. The pairing had an annoying singsong quality: May I Be Grateful; May I Be Joyful. Far too, well, –ful.

There was no changing Joyful. It had staked its claim. It was what it was. But what could I do with the other? I gravitated toward the word gratitude because it seemed to have substance, more gravitas. But how could I make it conform to the May I format?

As it happened, I had just recently discovered the works of Ursula K. LeGuin, the writer of fantasy and science fiction then nearing the end of her long life. I was particularly taken with her little short story called “Ether, Or.” It was indisputably an Oregon town, Ether, but its place was not fixed. Every so often the inhabitants would wake up to discover that their town had been transplanted to a different corner of their state. Why shouldn’t Gratitude be the name of a community? I could change the frame of my invocation not to a quality, but to an envisioned state: May I Dwell in Gratitude. This village would be a different place than Ether. Where the latter asks readers to believe it to be palpable as well as portable, Gratitude would be presented as virtual and so portable that it could be manifested on short notice even in the densest city.

“ I had found a vision of Gratitude, but it seemed incomplete. How could I dwell in Gratitude without participating in its rituals?”

How would I know when this village had taken shape on my teeming urban block? In the mornings I waken to the sound of women of the village singing their songs of gratitude. I admit I borrowed this image from my wife, who dreamed of a woman in an ancient culture who was busily moving large stones and singing as she worked. My wife even remembered the tune and hummed it as she recounted the dream. (She’s a dreaming anthropologist and ethnomusicologist!) Later she recounted the dream at a large seminar, accompanied by a completely different song.

I had found a vision of Gratitude, but it seemed incomplete. How could I dwell in Gratitude without participating in its rituals? After a few days, I added a wish: Some day may I sing my own songs of gratitude. But that wouldn’t be enough. I soon found myself choking out a verse from the Gullah spiritual: Someone’s singing, Lord, kum ba yah. Someone’s singing, Lord, kum ba yah. Some one’s singing, Lord, kum ba yah—Oh, Lord, kum ba yah. It became my ritual.

So that is where it stands, for now. There’s another part to this story, but this is not its time. Except that while I was writing this piece part of my brain was in the grip of the Beatles’ song, “She came in through the bathroom window.” After reading about the song’s origins, I know it can’t possibly be my song of gratitude. I had always misheard the title as “Ít came in through the backroom window,” and I was always hazy on the actual lyrics. As if the “she” of the song or the “it” of my imagination could be my village of Gratitude. But in any case, my Gratitude did come in through the backroom window.


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