The following article was first published several years ago. It has been one of Justice Cunningham’s most popular writings. Its meaning seems to be timeless.
We have become a nation of whiners, complainers and cry babies. We complain about taxes, politicians, and the weather. We complain about lawyers and doctors. We rush to join our own narrow interest groups, from where we can vilify the rest of the world and lament how badly our members are being treated. We have created heat indexes and wind chill factors so that, when the meteorologist gives us the weather, we can talk about how much worse it really is. Surely, the good Lord must grow weary of it all. For it seems the ones who complain the most have the least reason to complain. People not only complain incessantly, they look askance at those who don’t. If you are not making a fuss or criticizing, they say you really don’t understand the situation. Amid all this, I retreat to my closet and confess that I am thankful. I’m thankful we live in a country where complaining people do not get strung up by the neck for complaining. I’m thankful for my doctor who cares; for medical science which continues to advance; and for being able to go to my dentist without pain. I’m thankful for my good neighbors, who benignly tolerated my dog and my five boys, and didn’t take me to court for the bother. I’m thankful for the health and safety of my family, and for living in a community where people don’t have to lock their doors and where strangers wave at you on the road. I’m very grateful for my honest and skillful mechanic, who patiently put up with the nickel and dime repairs of my teenage drivers. I’m thankful for political candidates who subject themselves to the slings and arrows of a fickle public and hypocritical media to give back their time and service to the community. They help maintain our roads and streets, educate our young, care for our elderly, and preserve the democratic process. I’m thankful I am able to see the beauty of the morning sun, the gathering storm on a summer day, and my son’s line drive. I’m thankful for my minister who offers hope, my friends who offer smiles, and my enemies who make me feel worthy. Thanks to the millions who show up for work each day in spite of sick kids, alcoholic spouses, heartaches and broken dreams. I’m thankful for those who do volunteer work — elderly ladies in hospital lobbies, small town firemen, Sunday School teachers, soccer coaches, blood bank workers, and on and on. I’m thankful for the teachers of this country who — at far less pay than they deserve — labor at molding young minds and developing the leaders of tomorrow. Thanks to the nice people who stop on the frantic and fast moving interstate highways to offer aid to stranded drivers. I’m grateful for sales clerks who smile and for people who say thank you when you hold the door open. I’m thankful for summer nights when the wonderful chorus of nature serenades us and the homeless to not freeze to death. I’m thankful for my mother and father who, in their humble way, taught me many things, including reaching for a rung above them for something better. I’m thankful to be alive today — not yesterday, not tomorrow, but today — the most exciting time in the history of the world. So, I am thankful — deeply and profoundly grateful. It won’t get me on the morning news, nor invited to the mayor’s tea. It won’t get me on a call-in show. What will it get me anyway? The Beatitudes assure us that the kingdom of heaven shall belong to the poor in spirit. The meek shall inherit the earth. Peacemakers shall be called the children of God. But no mention is made of the grateful. Surely gratitude is worth something. Like keeping you out of last place, maybe? So, on Judgment Day, I will be confronted with an indictment of many sins to which I will humbly plead guilty and ask for mercy. The Lord will search my long list of wrongs, looking for something good. “Remember me, Lord?” I will anxiously and plaintively implore. “I was thankful.”
Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Bill Cunningham (retired) is a Lyon County resident and former Commonwealth Attorney for the 56th Judicial District.