I pause to listen to the soft three-note call of a quail before I read the note on the table. It's a thank-you from someone who, several months before, had written me a harsh, accusing letter.
Hoping for sympathy, I'd told a friend some of the unfair things in the letter. But my friend said, "Stop right now and be grateful. Find something to be grateful for ... even if it's just that you like the color of your shirt ... anything. But stop thinking about the hurt and start being grateful."
Shaken, all I could think was, "You've got to be kidding!"
At that moment, though, I heard the call of the quail, and I remembered the funny little brood that skittered in a line along my driveway that morning. The image made me smile.
"Well," I said, "if it can be anything, I choose the quail song to be grateful for." And immediately I felt a little better - not comforted exactly, but lighter.
Later, as I was filling my gas tank, I was chafing over the letter. A quail called from the brush. Before this, I'd thought of gratitude only as a sitting-down-to-turkey-dinner kind of activity, but hearing the quail, I thought about how the children of Israel had been saved from starvation in the wilderness by God's provision of evening quail. With the pump pinging, it was a good time to be grateful that gasoline was in supply at a price I could pay and that my car was in good running order. I thought of these as symbols of God's care. It wasn't an earth-shaking realization, but spending those few minutes in grateful contemplation helped.
I heard the quail's song again as I stood in line at the post office, and when I walked through the parking lot of the grocery store, and when I unloaded a full shopping cart. In each case I caught myself ruminating over the letter, and each time I made myself stop to thank God for His care, His provision, and even the small evidences of the beauty of His creation - such as a quail's call.
That night, though, I was again mentally composing a scathing reply. Tossing sleeplessly, I realized I preferred the serenity of prayer to the anger that made me feel detached from God's care. I switched on the light and turned for comfort to the book of Psalms in the Bible.
I knew I'd found an answer when I came upon the verse that reads: "The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him" (Ps. 28:7).
I had already experienced during the day the effect of turning to prayer instead of rehearsing what I would say in my defense. Prayer that praised God, thanking Him, had been like a shield. I knew that I could trust my broken heart to the care of our Father-Mother God. I resolved to make a conscientious effort to be grateful whenever I was tempted to feel attacked and misunderstood.
It took several weeks, but every time I heard the quail, I would stop for a few seconds, check what I was thinking, and find something to be grateful for right at that moment. This effort made me realize that I didn't just have things to be grateful for. I could be grateful that I knew God and that I was sure of His existence; that I'd experienced His inspiration by being willing to turn from disappointment and to pray.
I stopped looking for sympathy, and I never answered the letter. I finally regained my peace when I was able gratefully to accept that God's love included the letter-writer. Eventually, as the thank-you note attested, the rift was healed.
Today, when I hear the quail's call, I think of something the founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote, explaining the relationship of gratitude to healing: "Gratitude is much more than a verbal expression of thanks. Action expresses more gratitude than speech.
"If we are ungrateful for Life, Truth, and Love, and yet return thanks to God for all blessings, we are insincere and incur the sharp censure our Master pronounces on hypocrites. In such a case, the only acceptable prayer is to put the finger on the lips and remember our blessings" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 3).