A few weeks ago at church our pastor spoke about the importance of gratitude in our life. In a world where the daily news is filled tragedy, scandal and greed this was a refreshing reminder for us to be thankful for what we do have instead of what we don’t have. He challenged us to offer thanks to someone in our lives that week and be grateful to those who have helped us sustain a good life. The homily gave me a lens to view signs of gratitude in my own life.
Later that week my wife and I prepared food and served dinner at a transitional housing center in Redmond. This has become a monthly routine to support others who just need a bit more help during the challenging times of their life. As I served at the buffet table I looked out into the small dining hall and saw people talking and hugging each other. Many of these people had smiles on their face as they joined in dinner conversation. The people there that night were grateful to see friends and have food to eat. I noticed one woman with a black eye and abrasions on her face who appeared to have been beaten. At the end of the evening she was about to leave with her son as she made her way to the front of the dining hall. She turned to a few us working that evening and said “I am grateful…I am grateful, thanks very much for dinner”. At that moment I could only think about the homily just a few days earlier. I thought about how grateful all of the people are here saying thank you to those who prepared and served the dinner. Hearing this woman who was challenged in many ways just say she was grateful can be a wake up call for many. I think it is the least that many of us can do by taking out a bit of time during our busy lives to help those who are grateful for our generosity. As I drove home that night it was another reminder how grateful I was for the life that I have. The simple gratitude I experience each month is a motivation to return.
About a week later my son was visiting home for a few days and noticed a man in a downtown Seattle McDonald’s that could only afford a coffee. My son asked him if he wanted breakfast and he graciously accepted. He was feeling the spirit of gratitude and helping someone in a small way.
A few weeks ago my wife and I were on a flight from NYC to Seattle and due to changes in our travel plans we could not get a seat together. The Sunday flight was packed for the over 5 hour nonstop journey across the country. We both had middle seats one row apart. The probability was low that someone would give up their window or aisle for this long flight. I was going to at least give it a shot. A woman entered my row and I asked her if she was flexible and she basically said “no”. As I looked back at my wife in the row behind me there was a man about to enter his aisle seat next to my wife. He apparently heard the question I had for the woman sitting next to me and he looked at me and said he would be glad to change seats with me. I was surprised to say the least and he said it would be good karma. The gracious offer made my evening as my wife and I shared a few more hours together before the work week started. As I thanked this man I thought back to a trip in September on a long flight from Chicago to Seattle. I was sitting in an exit row aisle seat when a couple approached me if I would be willing to give us my seat for them to sit together. I had a split second decision to make and I could only think about how I would feel in that position. I said that I would be glad to do that. At that moment there was a feeling of paying it forward as there may come a day where I too may need this favor. The wife and husband thanked me and I thought this was the least I could do for two people to share time together. Give unconditionally and you will receive many times over when you are least expecting it.
I too recently experienced gratitude when I got into my car one evening after work and was surprised by the small note below from my wife. I was touched by that and grateful that I have a strong marriage of over 20 years. It put a smile on my face and a skip in my heart. I was glowing for the whole evening. For years we have left each other small notes from time to time sharing our love and gratitude for each other. It is those small things that we do to say thank you to those who touch our lives that can make an amazing difference.
On this Thanksgiving holiday reach out to someone who deserves to know how special they are to your life. I am sure you know at least one person who has not heard that recently and that would put a smile on their face. Better yet make simple acts of gratitude a way of daily life that creates and strengthens the bonds throughout your relationships. Gratitude is contagious when we give and receive!