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The idea of giving thanks is sprinkled liberally throughout the Bible, from Psalm 103 – ‘Bless the Lord oh my soul, and all that is within me, bless God’s holy name’, to 1 Thessalonians: ‘Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you’.

The Psalms taught me that it was fine to express anger and despair to God, but recently, I’ve been thinking more about cultivating an attitude of gratitude, to coin a corny phrase. Because, whenever I start to feel sorry for myself, for whatever reason, a quick look at the nightly news restores a sense of perspective.

Exhausted after a particularly pressured period at work and a death in the family, my husband and I had a much ‘needed’ week’s holiday in Bali at the end of July.

Not long after we flew back to our comfortable existence in suburban Melbourne, the first earthquake rocked and devastated Lombok, Bali’s neighbouring island. And then there was another. And then one more.

While families on Lombok whose homes were destroyed were still waiting for financial assistance to start rebuilding, another part of Indonesia was devastated. I watched heroic attempts on Sulawesi to unearth bodies – both living and dead - from tons of concrete rubble with the most basic equipment. People had no access to clean drinking water, let alone medical supplies.

I was sobered by the natural disasters affecting Lombok just after our idyllic spell close by. Hearing about the carnage wrought by the more recent natural disaster in that part of the world, I am reminded once again of the privileged bubble I occupy.

Looked at by local standards, my family has had a rough ride lately; frequenting the Parkville hospital precinct far more frequently than we’d like. In the second half of last year, we were in and out of the Royal Melbourne and the spanking new, architect-designed Peter Mac for months. More recently, we’ve been sampling the only two health establishments in that area I didn’t know so well – the Dental Hospital and the Royal Women’s. And all I can say about the public health system after this is: it is amazing. Caring and efficient staff, a bed when required, medical technology that boggles my mind: all available when we really need it. For free.

Whenever difficult stuff happens to people like me, it happens within this cocoon of effective infrastructure. Health care.  Ambulance. Police. Fireys. And that’s not even starting on roads and schools, mental health services and what is arguably civilisation’s greatest ever invention, the free lending library. Sure, the systems aren’t perfect, but they seem to work better than most other places on the planet.

Watching the world news is a useful daily corrective to any temptation I might have towards self-pity. Even when my chips are down, in my small corner I am surrounded by care.

And both our Holy Book and our liturgies are full of rich language for this deep gratitude. Another thing to thank God for.

This was published in the November issue of The Melbourne Anglican

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