May 23, 2019
(+++) GRATEFULNESS, WITH CAVEATS
Thank You for My Dreams: Bedtime Prayers of Gratitude. By HSH Prince Alexi Lubomirski and sons. Illustrated by Tracey Knight. Andrews McMeel. $16.99.
We could all use a strong dose of gratitude every day, especially at a time when so many elements of social and societal cohesiveness seem to have frayed beyond repair. Even when things are going badly on a given day, if we can but remember that not all things go badly on all days, and can express our understanding of that reality and our appreciation of it, we can go some distance toward healing our own hearts, if not those of the people around us. Or perhaps we can start healing others by first healing ourselves – it is certainly worth a try.
None of this is stated directly in Alexi Lubomirski’s Thank You for My Dreams, but all of it is strongly implied. Lubomirski, a fashion photographer of royal heritage who donates the proceeds of his books to the international humanitarian organization “Concern Worldwide,” certainly has his heart in the right place – and, apparently, the hearts of his sons, too, since he says that the statements in this book are given as his sons themselves say them. That does strain credulity a bit: at the very least, the statements show strong parental influence. But certainly it makes sense to encourage gratitude in our children as well as in ourselves – and being grateful for our children is one thing on which all parents would do well to focus, despite the innumerable everyday difficulties inherent in child-rearing.
Thank You for My Dreams does have some elements of over-reaching, or perhaps under-reaching. The simple but apt, cutout-style silhouette illustrations by Tracey Knight are a big part of the book’s effect, but Knight gets no credit on the cover, title page, or anywhere inside except in the “Acknowledgments.” Some gratitude for the art would seem appropriate. Also, in its determination to be politically correct, the book includes some elements that are quite clearly parental impositions of the cause-of-the-moment: “Thank you for people who don’t use plastic straws because they are bad for the planet.” But at the same time, “Thank you for cars, buses, and trains because they help us get to school and the shops when we need to buy food.” And: “Thank you for planes that let us travel to see our family in different cities and different countries where they live.” There is no sense of irony here, or even one of understanding the complexities of modern life.
And then there is this: “Thank you for people who invent things to stop pollution and for the garbagemen who take all the garbage away from our streets and they also take all our recycling away, which helps the planet.” The art for this comment is exceptional, showing a trash collector with the wings of an angel – scarcely a common image! But the book also includes, “Thank you for all the countries in the world because there are seven billion people on planet earth and that’s where they all live.” And that’s where they all create pollution and garbage, as the book does not say. There is an underlying sense of unreality here that is not wholly attributable to the notion that the words of gratitude are those of children. Parents, after all, form children’s opinions, and parents shape children’s lives in such a way as to point to things for which to be grateful – or not.
Still, the foundational concept of Thank You for My Dreams is a sound and welcome one, and it is far more of a full-day matter than the book’s subtitle indicates. Indeed, that subtitle is misleading, since the book is divided into three sections called “Morning,” “Day” and “Evening.” The focus here is scarcely bedtime, and the book is better for its full-day gratitude orientation. And many of the specifics are both childlike and quite lovely: “Thank you for that feeling I get inside my whole body when I feel love, like when Mommy and Daddy are smiling at me when I am not doing anything.” “Thank you for doctors and hospitals who make us feel better when we get hurt or get sick because sometimes lots of kids are sick at school and then we all get sick.” And, in nods to the benefits of technology, “Thank you for video chat so we can speak to Grandma and Grandpa even when they are living in a different country.” And: “Thank you for phones that let us talk to our family and friends when they are not in the same room.”
There are occasional realizations in Thank You for My Dreams of just how fortunate the Lubomirski family is – indeed, how fortunate many, many First World families are: “Thank you for all the faucets in our house that let us get water whenever we want to drink or wash. Some people don’t have that, so we are very lucky.” And that, in a sense, says it all: the Lubomirskis, and the families that will read this book, are very lucky indeed, no matter what their everyday challenges and difficulties may be. There will always be someone who has more of something than you do, but there is one thing that anyone who picks up Thank You for My Dreams can have to just the same extent as anyone else who reads the book: gratitude. Becoming aware of that as a general matter, if not in all the specific ways expressed in this book, can go a long way toward making everyday life calmer, happier, and more appreciated.