#8 - Greek Proverb: Even a Hen, After It Drinks Water, Raises Its Head to The Skies to Thank God.
Reflections on reasons to "Think, and Thank. - Part 2: The Whos"
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This post continues an earlier one that combined two complementary proverbs. The first proverb, which was the main one explored, says that “if something that was meant to chop off your head merely knocked off your cap, you should be thankful.” The second says that “a person who does not know how to think is the one who will not know how to thank.” Combining the two together as their Nigerian originators often do, the post summarized the two proverbs as to think, and thank for the situations, circumstances, and things that could have killed you in 2022, but which you escaped. The focus of thanks was therefore on the ‘whats’.
However, the attitude of gratitude goes beyond dwelling on only the ‘whats’—the what could’ves, should’ves, and would’ves. It is equally important to think about the ‘whos’ and to thank them. Hence, the Greeks believe that “even a hen, after it drinks water, raises its head to the skies to thank God.” If chickens do that, how much more should humans? It’s the week of Thanksgiving in the US and in less than 48 hours from posting this, many of us will be gathered with other humans to eat together. According to the Greeks, it’s a perfect opportunity to not only eat and drink, but to also think and thank the ‘whos’ in our lives who have aided our journey so far in 2022.
Before then, a little housekeeping.
Some of you from outside the US asked me after Part 1 of this post what the hullabaloo about Thanksgiving is in this country. Shouldn’t thanks be given every day? Do people in the US not give thanks often except in the last few days of November? We do, but the official Thanksgiving holiday is special, rooted in a centuries-old tradition. The holiday gives us the opportunity to rein in all our thanks.
History of Thanksgiving in the US
Back when communities were agrarian, farmers threw post-harvest parties to celebrate successful farming seasons. In England, the first 15 years of the 17th century was challenging. There were plagues in 1604 and 1622. A drought in 1611. Floods in 1613. The nation observed several Days of Fasting in pleas for divine mercy and the longing to once again celebrate the bounties of divine providence via Days of Thanksgiving, Eventually they were able to catch a break.
Thereafter on December 4, 1619, a group of 38 English settlers landed safely in Virginia, USA. There on a mission on behalf of their home government, the settlers marked their safe arrival with a charter dictated by the Annual Thanksgiving prayers from home:
"That the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantation in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God."
Other groups of settlers—Puritans and Pilgrims—arrived in the US from England in the 1620s and 1630s. They chose Massachusetts as their home base, and continued the practice of thanksgiving celebrations, particularly at the end of each farming season.
What began as local celebrations of thanks in the settler communities quickly earned local recognition with state legislations in Virginia and Massachusetts. Later, a presidential proclamation in 1863 elevated it to a national tradition but different states celebrated Thanksgiving on different days. Thus, in 1941, a federal legislation authorized the fourth Thursday in November as a fixed day for the annual Thanksgiving holiday celebration. And about 300 years after the first pilgrim’s Thanksgiving charter in Virginia, President J.F. Kennedy issued Proclamation 3560 on November 5, 1963, stating:
"Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and in Massachusetts, far from home in a lonely wilderness, set aside a time of thanksgiving. On the appointed day, they gave reverent thanks for their safety, for the health of their children, for the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together, and for the faith which united them with their God."
In 21st Century US, everyone plans their Thanksgiving celebrations to be as simple or as elaborate as they like. Churches hold special thanksgiving services all through the long weekend. Organizations and communities host colorful parades. Friends exchange gifts and reconnect. For families, the weekend can be only the few days in a year that many gather to eat with their extended family members and catch up on the year’s events. Thanksgiving in the US is a big deal, and rightly so.
This year, the Greeks interject the holiday with the reminder that “even a hen, after it drinks water, lifts its head to the skies to thank God.” Greek culture is a famous bastion of knowledge and wisdom. Having appointed themselves as chicken behavioral psychologists and analysts, their proverb offers some interesting insights to probe. The proverb also gives an opportunity to learn about hens. For more, check out YouTube videos and sources like this Raising Happy Chickens website.
How Hens Drink Water
Hens need water to build healthy cells, digest their food, for easy excretion, and egg production. With a core body temperature of between 105ºF to 107ºF, they need a lot of water daily at an ideal temperature of 55ºF to stay hydrated.
Hens drink by dipping their beaks in water. After each sip, they have this habit of raising their heads before dipping it back again for another sip. Their anatomy limits their drinking options so they must improvise. Science explains the frequent head raises while drinking as using gravity to get water into their bodies. The Greeks, famous bastions of ancient civilization and wisdom, downplay gravity. As self-appointed chicken behavioral psychologists and analysts, they explain the fascinating drinking style of the hen as an expression of gratitude to its maker. There’ll be other opportunities to pursue the scientific track. In this post, let’s explore some of the wisdom the Greeks sought to convey with their proverbial explanation of the hen’s behavior.
Here are two YouTube videos about how hens drink to bring you up to speed:
Think, Look Up, and Thank
The Greeks’ interpretation of why hens drink the way they do is a classic example of proverbs being the chariot of words. The proverb stresses human’s need to express thanks to God by illustrating with a simple behavior of the hen. This creature teaches 5 principles of gratitude to learn or be reminded of.
The acknowledgment of appreciation. Hens need water to survive. The Greeks suggest that they understand this, which is why they raise their head in thanks after every sip of water. The proverb hints at a relationship between the hen and God, and gives the impression that by raising its head, the hen acknowledges its status as a creature and shows appreciation to its creator for the provision of a basic need. This is a hen, whose brain is about the size of a man’s thumbnail and whose heart is about the size of a quarter. If such a creature can give thanks to God for the provision of a basic need, shouldn’t you? When was the last time you sipped water with thoughtful reflection or appreciation for getting it? What about food and other provisions that you get to enjoy on a regular basis? Behind every provision, there is a provider. This proverb says that if “even a hen” can cut through the fog of enjoying the meeting of a need to thank its invisible provider, shouldn’t you also think, and thank the ultimate provider of your basic needs?
The attitude of gratitude. Hens don’t need an audience to express their gratitude to God. It’s a lifestyle that they practice constantly, continuously, and without the need to show off. Whether in the safety of their coop or out in the open, they do not care who’s watching or not there. They sip and raise their head in gratitude. It doesn’t matter the time or the day, every chicken breed does it, wherever in the world they are. How are you doing on the gratitude attitude scale? Better than the hen?
The process of gratitude. The hen raises its head while she’s still drinking, not after. Its action illustrates that appreciation can be expressed during the process of enjoying the provision for which we’re grateful. We do not need to wait till the end to throw out an absent-minded “thank you” for what we’ve enjoyed. Without being cheesy or annoying, can you boost our gratitude-o-meter and say thanks while enjoying blessings? What’s your process?
The individuality of gratitude. The hen expresses gratitude as its anatomy dictates. Not every creature can raise its head to the skies to express thanks, nor are we expected to. What matters is a thankful heart to the ultimate provider. Thus, whether you bow, or raise your head, lie prostrate, dance, crouch, or lay still, give thanks to the invisible ultimate provider of all of humanity’s blessings. Every account about God points to His abode being up in the skies. The hen raises its head up in that direction. Think about the provisions you’ve enjoyed so far. Take a cue from the hen and direct your thanks in the direction of the ultimate provider in whatever style suits you.
The simplicity of gratitude. Hens cluck while drinking. It’s their normal sound and they don’t worry about making the perfect sound to express their thanks. They just raise their head in gratitude using the sound they have. You want to break out in song? Poetry? Prose? Whatever your default mode of expressing thanks, just do it. Write, if you must. Speak, sing, or do whatever you’re capable of. Half of your appreciation lies in your heart. Let it flow out in any way that matches its depth. Simply think, and thank.
Going beyond the object of the hen’s gratitude, where else should we look for who to thank besides up at the skies? Who else should we thank in addition to God? A proverb from Cote d’ Ivoire nudges us to also look around: “Let us be thankful for those who make us happy, for they make our souls blossom.”
Think, Look Around, and Thank.
In addition to raising the head up to the skies to thank God, there are benefits from using the hen’s 5 principles of gratitude to thank people around us. Which people are appropriate to thank? There are several, but I’ll keep it at 5 groups.
These 5 categories of people come to mind:
Spouses/Partners. These are the people with the most intimate access to you. Depending on how long you’ve been together and the depth of affection you share, these are the people who desire good for you and hurt when you do. You may wake up next to them every morning or have them within calling distance. They’ve seen you at your best and worst and still love you. It’s easy to take the familiarity with them for granted, easy to assume that they’ll always be there. Life is not certain and none of us knows when we’ll exit this world. While you have them, shouldn’t you think and thank them? As you reflect on the past and dream about the future, shouldn’t you also relish the present and think and thank them? A Swahili proverb says that “it is the honor of the noble person to know what is done for them.” Especially to the people who are the nearest and dearest to you who’ve done so much for you this year. Shouldn’t you think and thank them?
Other family members and friends. Some of our greatest cheerleaders fall within this group—parents, children, siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins, and those friends that are like family. They’ve been through thick and thin with us, spent and been spent on us. They’ve matched us in pace, dragged us faster, and stuck with us to get to several finish lines. Some, we’ve not seen this year and may not see in person till later. But the special spot that’s ours in their hearts lights up technological lines of communication. The relationship is special, incalculable in gold, silver, or dollars. They’ve cared from across the miles. Loved through geographic gaps in more meaningful ways than many in the same zip code. These are some of the people who make your soul blossom. Shouldn’t you think, and thank them?
Service workers. This is a special group of people that are dear to my heart. They are the maintenance crews and gardeners. The healthcare workers and law enforcement. The city sweepers and fire fighters. The human nuts and bolts of transportation systems. The custodians of public buildings, the mail men and women who drive our streets and keep an eye out for elderly residents. It’s easy to take their presence and availability for granted yet their absence can be paralyzing. Some of them will be summoned from their Thanksgiving dinner tables on Thursday to attend to an emergency that we will be oblivious to. Since the start of the year, you’ve depended on one or more of this group. Look around and you’ll find them, busy doing their thing, without which life will be miserable for you. A Romanian proverb says, “For the slightest help, be grateful.” Service workers have done a lot for you this year. Shouldn’t you think and thank them?
Antagonists / Enemies :-D. Like them or not, these people occupy an important role in your life. They’re the ones who don’t like you and do not hide it. They are hostile and actively work against you. The bold ones are loud and brash in their hostility, so you know what you’re dealing with. The stealthy ones are more subtle, but no less deadly. These people keep you on your toes. Think about how much better they have made you this year because you didn’t want their antagonism justified? Reflect on how their abrasion may have saved you from complacency and carelessness. Reframe their attitude and actions towards you. Rejoice over how much advancement you’ve made this year because of how they feel about you. They’ve probably made you wiser and accountable. Shouldn’t you think and thank them?
The EGRs. EGR means “Extra Grace Required.” They are a special sub-category of people that belong to any of the other categories who you may be tempted to exclude from appreciating. The temptation may be justifiable because of their actions or attitude. But gratitude is a two-way street. Its benefits are for you as well as the person you are thanking. Why allow them to deprive you of your part of benefits because of long exclusionary causes, however justifiable? We all need a strong constitution to stomach a lot of nonsense in life, including the EGRs. Tolerating them will include thanking them, as distasteful as you may find them or their actions. If only for the insights they’ve given you about your threshold of how much nonsense you can stomach, they’ve helped you. Shouldn’t you think and find ways to be thankful for them?
In addition to these 5 distinct categories, think about other people in your life that have helped you in one way or the other. Think about your neighbors and co-workers. Think about the familiar faces at your favorite restaurants and stores, the people who’ve served you at different times and left you with a quicker spring in your steps. Think about the leaders, mentors, and bosses who have sharpened you, quickened you, and enriched you with increased wisdom and skills. Think about the people you lead and mentor and invest time in to keep the circle of life and growth round. “The person who does not know how to think is the one who will not know how to thank.” Think about 2022 so far. You haven’t made it this far on your own or by yourself. Some people helped get you here. Shouldn’t you think and thank them?
Every religion prioritizes giving thanks to the Divine. Every culture considers gratitude to others a hallmark of virtue and good breeding. Wherever you’re from and whatever you believe, hens model an approach to thanksgiving for us as humans. Hens teach being thankful for the most mundane things. Thankful to the invisible and ultimate source behind every provision, during the process not just at the end, while drinking before being satisfied. They look beyond the humans who place water before them and look up to the God who works all things out behind the scenes.
Think about hens, that however thirsty, still look up and thank. Think about hens, that however many of them jostle for limited water, still look up, unmindful of the competition, and thank. Think about hens, that whether or not anyone is watching, still look up while drinking, and thank. Shouldn’t you think, and thank whether looking up, standing still, crouching, kneeling, sitting, dancing, or laying down? Shouldn’t you thank your maker and provider, unmindful of whether or not anyone is watching or applauding?
Through the routine of the last 326 days of 2022, you’ve enjoyed the provision of many basic needs. You may have paid for those things or known the humans that made their provision possible. Hens don’t drink only rainwater that fall from the skies. Many hens drink from containers washed and filled by humans. Yet, they look up and thank. Shouldn’t you think, look up, and thank God?
With a brain as massive and endowed as humans have, we are far more intellectually endowed than hens. With such a gift, you can do more than the hen. Thus, shouldn’t you think, look around, and thank people?
In a special way, I am overwhelmed by how fabulously wealthy and how abundantly blessed I am by people who genuinely care about me. Some, I share blood ties with. Others, I have equally strong bonds of affection with though without the DNA match. As I reflect, I see how God brought them into my life and keeps them there as part of His blessings to me—male, female, older, same age range, same generation, and those far younger. These blessings make me laugh, think, check me, call me out, check on me, encourage, inspire, challenge, and motivate me. They model for me integrity, excellence, hard work, compassion, love, service, and an abiding commitment to faith, family, and fellowship. They are decent humans, balanced in their striving to be better and do better in ways that do not deplete mind and body. How can I take this incalculable stupendous wealth for granted?
And so, like the hen, I am going through the basic things of life with intentionality. I find myself looking up with gratitude as I partake of the many blessings in my life. I can’t help but look up and thank God. I can’t help but look around for the people who’ve helped me so far and be grateful for them. My list is long and includes you, the reader. Please accept my heartfelt thanks for your time and engagement.
Who are the people in your life you are or should be thankful for? What are your plans to thank them? Share in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you.
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