A lesson in gratitude from the Iranian hostage crisis

Thirty years ago this Thanksgiving, the thoughts and prayers of our nation were focused on the safe return of 66 diplomats who were taken hostage by militants in Iran on Nov. 4, 1979. The year and a half when America was held hostage were particularly trying for family members of the hostages. One of my colleagues at the Pastoral Center, Ruth Cox, learned a lesson in prayer and gratitude from her seven-year old daughter, Mary, as the family prayed for the return of their cousin, William Keough. Bill was visiting the U. S. Embassy in Tehran on that tragic day in November in his role as Superintendent of the American School in Islamabad, Pakistan.

For 444 days the nation and the Cox family prayed for the health and safety of our hostages. On Jan. 20, 1981, the prayers of the nation were answered as the hostages returned home, on the first day of the Reagan Presidency. I remember very well the jubilation which surrounded Bill during his welcome home parade in Waltham.

For many of us, the parades and the welcome home ceremonies were the end of the story. But for the Cox family, the story continued. Four hundred thirty-seven days after the release of Bill, Mary told her parents that she had only seven more days to say thank you. She explained she was taught every time we say please, we have to say thank you. As she had asked God for 444 days to please bring cousin Bill home, she was now seven days shy of 444 days to complete her ‘thank you’ to God. Sometimes the most profound lessons of life are taught to us by children.

Mary’s inspirational attitude of gratitude challenges us to consider our prayers of petition in relationship to our prayers of gratitude. We constantly plead to God for His grace and favor. But how often do we acknowledge the blessings and gifts that we receive from God on a daily basis? How often are God’s answers to our prayers greeted with profound and enduring prayers of gratitude? Are our prayers of petition at least equaled by our prayers of gratitude?

As we gather this Thanksgiving, we once again turn to God as a nation in prayers of petition and gratitude. My prayer for you and your loved ones is that every day will be a day of thanksgiving. Lord, please grant each of us an inspirational attitude of gratitude, today and every day. And Lord, thank you.

Father Richard M. Erikson is vicar general and moderator of the curia of the Archdiocese of Boston.