Friday, November 30, 2018 - Updated: 12:41 pm
My father, Ted Kondrich, passed away Feb. 6 of this year. The pain of his passing is still raw, but my family and I take great solace and joy in the fact that he is now with our risen Lord, and that one day we will all be reunited in heaven.
As we approach the first Thanksgiving Day without my dad, I recently reflected on one of the many conversations I had with him a few months before his death.
When he was alive, I spoke with my dad almost every day; usually over the phone during rush hour. We would touch base on the comings-and-goings of various family members. We would reminisce about family history — good times and bad. We would engage in lively discussions about politics, religion, current events and world issues — you know, the kind of topics that everyone should avoid around the Thanksgiving dinner table.
On one occasion I was visiting dad at his home. It was a rare night, just the two of us. No spouses, no siblings, no grandchildren. Just father and son. As we chatted, dad accidentally knocked a pen from an end table onto the floor. I moved to pick it up for him, but he waved me off, saying, “No, no, I’ve got it.”
I said, “Are you sure? Let me help you.”
But he replied, “I’m good, I’ve got it.”
With no minor effort, he picked up the pen, placed it back on the table and, with an introspective look in his eye, said, “Let me tell you something. I have gotten to a point in my life where I have realized that I need to thank God for everything ... even something as small and trivial as the ability to bend over and pick up a pen.
“You know, a lot of people my age can’t bend over; a lot of people my age can’t see a pen on the floor; a lot of people my age can’t hold a pen. I am at a point in my life where I am grateful ... not just for the good things, but for the bad things, too ... even for little inconveniences like dropping a pen.
“Rather than complain and moan about things, I try to give thanks ... maybe God helped me drop the pen because he knows that I need to stretch and exercise a little more. When the delivery person leaves the daily newspaper at the end of the driveway instead of bringing it to my front door, I thank God that I still have the ability to walk. When images on the evening news, from around the world, threaten to depress and frighten me, I thank God for the many blessings he has bestowed on me as an American. I thank God for the freedoms and opportunities that I have been given throughout my life.”
Just as I was about to say, “Who are you and what did you do with my father?” (my dad and I have been known to be great complainers on occasion), he looked me in the eye and said, “Son, don’t wait until you’re 80 years old to be thankful for every single blessing ... every single day ... every single person ... every single hardship. Even on the crappiest, worst day of your life, if you look hard enough you’ll find something to be thankful for.”
This Thanksgiving, as we pause to give thanks, my dad’s wisdom resonates deep within me. This year as I savor the turkey and all the fixings, my dad’s advice reminds me to savor life. To savor each and every moment. To savor each and every person. To savor how much God loves me.
A few days after that visit with my dad, I was reading the autobiography of author Morris West, known for his novels “The Devil’s Advocate,” “The Shoes of the Fisherman” and “The Clowns of God.” In his reflection, West suggests that as we get older and more mature, our spiritual vocabulary should be simplified and reduced to three phrases: “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” In other words, gratitude is the ultimate virtue. Gratitude is how we, as human beings, become holy, by recognizing that all is a gift from God.
The medieval Christian mystic Meister Eckhart wrote, “If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”
My dad, a modern-day Christian mystic, would put it this way: “Don’t wait until you’re 20 to be thankful for every blessing in your life. Don’t wait until you’re 30, or 40, or 50, or 60, or 70. Don’t wait until you’re 80! Don’t wait one more moment to be grateful!”
Deacon Kondrich is assigned to the parish grouping that includes Good Shepherd in Braddock, Madonna del Castello in Swissvale, St. Maurice in Forest Hills and Word of God in Rankin/Swissvale. He also serves as a chaplain at the Allegheny County Jail.