Three islands, Inishmore, Inishmaan, and Inisheer, off the west coast of Ireland make up the Aran Islands. The O’Briens and the O’Flahertys, two local clans, ruled the islands until the English intervened in the late 16th century.
The people of these Islands are small-scale farmers and fishermen. They fish using currachs, small round boats made of wickerwork covered with a watertight material, propelled with a paddle.
Farming conditions are difficult since the islands are made up of Carboniferous limestone. There is no naturally occurring topsoil. Can you imagine? The inhabitants raise crops of oats and potatoes on soil they make from seaweed, sand, and manure from cattle raised on the Island.
The Aran people are also known for their knitting skills.
Which brings me to one of the Christmas gifts I received this year, a hand knit woolen earwarmer headband from the Aran Islands. It is cream colored, has a knit flower on it, and it’s beautiful. The tag says “In every stitch a story, in every line a legend.”
Also described on this tag are stitches used in knitting and their significance.
There is the Blackberry stitch, which represents nature. The Double Zig Zag depicts the ups and downs of married life, while the Tree of Life symbolizes a long life and sturdy sons. The Carrageen Moss stitch refers to seaweed and represents wealth to the fisherfolk. The Honeycomb stitch is a tribute to bees, especially that hard work brings just rewards. The Link stitch is the eternal link for those who have left the Island. The list goes on.
Reading about the Islands and the people who live there has made me wonder how my daily life might be a tribute to the things I hold important. Is my work infused with gratitude for what sustains me? As thankful as I am, still, am I constantly aware of the many miracles that allow and support my existence?
These are good questions.
The Chinese use the phrase “xiè tiān,” which literally means “thank sky” as a way to express gratitude. Writer Zhifan Chen says, “Because there are too many people that we feel grateful to, let’s thank sky then.” This moves gratitude away from a transactional understanding of gratefulness into an all-encompassing kindness and goodwill toward the world underscoring that each of us is a recipient of this blanket of beneficence.
In Taiwanese, people say “kám-sim,” which means “feel heart,” to express gratitude. To say “kám-sim” is to recognize that our actions have a rippling effect with a potential to strengthen and solidify interconnection. It is not a way to say thank you as Americans would understand it, but rather a way to show the community appreciation for a good deed.
Clearly, expressions of gratitude reflect a culture’s assessment of self and its relation to others. Do our forms of gratitude suggest we are individuals forging our own paths, or do they confirm our membership in a larger whole?
In some cultures, “thank you” can mean indebtedness, as in “I owe you one.” Or “I don’t know how to repay you.” In others, these expressions are less individual or self-focused and more relational. There is respect for what might be termed inherent gratitude.
Elaine Hsieh, professor of the study of language and culture at the University of Oklahoma says, “In India, ‘thank you’ is not something that you say on a regular basis.”
In Hindi, saying thank you to a family member is inappropriate because it suggests formality, not intimacy. In that culture, to say “thank you” implies distance rather than closeness.
She continues: “But, even though you don’t say thank you, there’s an inherent sense that gratitude is felt and oftentimes is expressed through nonverbal behaviors, rather than the words.”
Perhaps Cathy Park Hong, author and poet, sums up the appreciation conversation best. “To truly feel gratitude is to sprawl out into the light of the present.”
My personal promise to myself for 2023 is to amplify my expression of gratitude, to sprawl out into the light and say, “Thank you, sky.”
How about you?
love, love, love,
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