I am ashamed to say that I have never been to the United Nations! This may seem to be a strange statement except it seems almost a truism that New Yorkers don’t know what they have! Often people come here to see things that while I know about them, I have not seen or experienced them. This is true not only for New Yorkers, but for many of my family members in Italy who have not been to the great wonders of that fabled land.
This was brought home to me when I was on Sabbatical. When meeting people from all over the world, I was surprised at their change of mood when I uttered the words: “I’m from New York.” A smile stole across their faces as they confessed that they long to go to New York and will do so someday. They often had questions about what it is like to live in such a great city. I felt very proud of our city and wondered why we are so slow to see how fortunate we are to live here.
I have met many people in parishes who have not experienced some of the great things about our city, things that people travel thousands of miles to see. When I started our parish Opera courses, I was surprised to see people who have lived in the confines of our city who have never been to the Metropolitan Opera or even to Lincoln Center! To see their faces light up when they experienced it for the first time was truly a delight for me.
Nevertheless, there is so much more: neighborhoods, specialty shops, museums, theaters, churches etc. that make New York City a destination for millions of people each year; but often we New Yorkers are the last ones to appreciate what we have. We live in one of the most important places on earth, a world city that inspires writers and artists, where every nationality and religion lives in peace. Sure, we have problems, but the pluses far outnumber the minuses!
I use the example of our beloved city to underscore a basic human problem that when extended to the spiritual sphere can have disastrous consequences. We do not appreciate the wonders and joys that surround us. This lack of appreciation is linked to a deeper lack of awareness and valuing of what God is doing within us. We are oblivious to the marvelous that happens to us both physically and spiritually. As I pointed out to a classroom of youngsters in our school, “Just sitting there thinking we are doing nothing is really a falsehood.” While we sit quietly listening, our ears perceive, our minds are forming complex associations and all this while the physical processes of our bodies continue and develop. Our gastric juices are breaking down our lunch into distinct chemical categories. Our circulatory system is cleansing us and moving things along. Our nervous system is feeding complex impulses to our brain. Our brain is overseeing the complexity of our bodily system. Our bone structure is being nurtured as our muscle structure makes us able to shift our weight to make us more comfortable in our chairs. And, of course, there is the accumulation of waste material that is being prepared for our next visit to the rest room! All this is happening as one sits and listens!
How many marvels are happening around us and we wander through them blind and deaf to the wonders of God! There is so much for us to be thankful. An old Jewish adage says that a Jew should say a prayer of thanks a hundred times a day for all that God gives. Imagine waking up and thanking God for the morning, for the air we breathe, for the shelter we enjoyed that night, for health for one more day. And all that before we even get out of bed!