On June 17, 1966 Paul Galanti was forced to eject from his Douglas A4 Skyhawk over North Vietnam after taking several hits from antiaircraft guns. Galanti, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, was cocky, courageous and like most twenty-six year olds, he lived with an attitude of invincibility. He was John Wayne in a supersonic jet. However, what would transpire after rocketing out of his flaming aircraft would change his cavalier demeanor forever.
A sea breeze caused his parachute to drift away from the Gulf of Tonkin, where if we would have landed he would have certainly been rescued by friendly forces. Instead, the steady wind pushed his parachute into enemy territory. Once Galanti hit terra firma, Vietcong soldiers swarmed his position, captured him, and imprisoned him in the notorious jail—Hanoi Hilton.
Galanti spent 6 1/2 years (2,432 days) as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. The horrors he endured were simply unimaginable for most us—regular beatings, exposure to the elements, malnutrition, burning hunger and thirst, combating vermin, depression—literally hell on earth. Paul returned home from the war in 1973. The very first letter he received at home was from the IRS. The note read, “We realize that you’ve had extenuating circumstances, but you haven’t paid taxes since 1967.”
“When I got home from Vietnam,” Galanti said, “many Americans were endlessly complaining. They complained about everything. The motto, unity over self, that had effectively held our POWs together under difficult circumstances, seemed to have been replaced at home with first-person singular: me, myself and I.”
But to Paul and his fellow POWs, life’s simple blessings were not to be taken for granted. Having a hot meal, a warm bed, time with friends and family, and the ability to make choices, to do anything they wanted, were visions they had dreamed of for years, during torture, filth, hunger, handcuffs and prison bars.
Paul’s perspective today is simple. Everywhere he goes, there are ordinary reminders of the difference between prison and living free. “Here’s the deal,” He’d say with clear blue eyes and a matter-of-fact tone, “Every day that you’ve got a doorknob—on your side of the door—is a day to be thankful.”
A grateful heart sees each day as a gift. Thankful people focus less on what they lack and more on the privileges they have. To the grateful, non-essentials are put in their proper place and the small things become precious treasures. Thankful people have made it a daily practice to rehearse the goodness and character of God. That’s how another POW under Roman house arrest could write, “Give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20).
Max Lucado adds these thoughts about cultivating a heart of gratitude:
“The grateful heart is like a magnet sweeping over the day, collecting reasons for gratitude. A zillion diamonds sparkle against the velvet of your sky every night. Thank you, God. A miracle of muscles enables your eyes to read these words and your brain to process them. Thank you, God. Your lungs inhale and exhale eleven thousand liters of air every day. Your heart will beat about three billion times in your lifetime. Your brain is a veritable electric generator of power. Thank you, God. For the jam on our toast and the milk on our cereal. For the blanket that calms us and the joke that delights us and the warm sun that reminds us of God’s love. For the thousands of planes that did not crash today. For the men who didn’t cheat on their wives, and the wives who didn’t turn from their men, and the kids who, in spite of unspeakable pressure to dishonor their parents, decided not to do so. Thank you, Lord.”
Find something to be thankful for today; even if it’s something simple. Credit God for His generosity and faithfulness and you’ll discover that gratitude does to anxiety, worry and fear what the morning sun does to valley mist. -DM