Why gratitude?

I asked my Composition II students to write a brief essay explaining their motives for expressing gratitude and offering at least one example of a moment when gratitude was expressed to them or when they chose to express gratitude to someone else. This essay was written by my student Jessica Whitmire, who is always smiling. Students like Jessica make my job lighter and brighter!

My family has always instilled in me the concept of treating others the way I want to be treated. Generally speaking, if we are kind to others they will, in return, be kind to us. At times this does not always happen, but that cannot be helped.  The Bible tells us to help those who are less fortunate. I believe that it is my responsibility as a Christian to help others when it is needed. I know that at times I have needed a helping hand or encouragement, and there has been someone there for me.

FullSizeRender-2My Granddad passed away two years ago but was in the hospital for two weeks before he passed, and the amount of love that was poured out on my family was immeasurable. People sent food and cards, constantly for those two weeks he was in the hospital and the week following his death. They came by the hospital and prayed with us and so much more. Without all the love and support I do not know if I would have ever made it through that difficult time. From that moment I knew that I needed to repay all the generosity and love that was given to me and my family.FullSizeRender

I feel that if everyone worked together and lifted each other up instead of tearing each other down, our country would be a much better place. There is too much hate and not enough love. Everyone has the ability to make a difference, and no act of kindness is too small or insignificant.

A Christmas tree story

Special thanks to my friend Betty Gail Jones for writing today’s post.

NO!! The lights are failing, row by row, on our 10 year-old, very favorite, pre-lit, secondary Christmas tree!!

bg treeThe top went first.  Ah, we can fix that… it is probably a fuse.  The mid section… now this is more serious.  What to do, what to do…  What to do?? Really.  Should we try to find some new fuses?  Is there one of those red tipped bulbs that can be replaced,  magically bringing the others back to life?  Should we just wrap a strand around the tree for this year and hope the best for next?

Alas, there is only one real solution (outside of buying a new tree).  The strand that has a choke hold on the tree, factory direct, must come off.  So then, there is a new problem… how to accomplish that task the fastest, easiest and most efficient way?

There is no way to figure it out by just looking at it.  This job requires jumping in with both hands and all fingers and making a discovery probe.

I began at the very beginning (Julie Andrews would say, “A very good place to start”) – of course, the top.  I twisted and pulled and poked and turned every limb, wire and bulb.  This proved to be an impossible job.  It was easy to see why other less determined people would toss it out on the street with a “free” sign!  The harder it seemed, the more determined I became to beat this beast- this bearer of all Christmas nightmares!

As I worked, I began to think.  I had so many good thoughts, ones that I believed would make good lines in a Christmas tree story.  I found myself wishing that I had another person there – not to help me with my untangling feat, but to write down the wonderful thoughts as I was having them.  I could never remember them all.

I do, however, remember one query that weighed on my mind heavily as I puzzled my way through those pokey branches.  “Why?  Why would I be so intent on finishing this job and in the way that I am doing it?  It is a little insane, I suppose.  There is this undeniable desire to complete the task successfully,” I thought.   As I pored over several reasons in my mind to answer the probing question, I began thinking about my persona – my make-up.

My mother would have just put some lights over the old ones for this year or maybe just stopped plugging them in.  Next year she would just throw the whole thing away and get a new one.  She likes pretty things and yet has had to make do for many years with what she has had.  Truly her answer would be more glitter, more gold, more ribbons or more icicles or something… more.  No, my mother would not have the patience or take the time to do what I found myself bound to as I wound one wire around another making slow progress.

“Aha! This is not what I thought it was,” I almost stated out loud.   It was something that I hadn’t seen before. It was unexpected,  and it made me want to explore an idea more.  Each limb had its own strand of lights tethered at the end by a small green clip.  When the clip was removed, the wire could be manipulated easily and the branch unwrapped with ease.  Finally I had found a method and a pattern to the work to be done.

BG dadMy mind went to my dad.  I had seen him meticulously sit with projects of small pieces of broken glass and just as carefully restore what he had clumsily broken to a not nearly perfect state but still moved by a sense of accomplishment at his task.  He worked things to the end when he started.  He didn’t give up or give in.  He began a crossword puzzle, and he might keep it for several days, returning to add or change a word until its completion.  He collected all of the millennium quarters from each state.  Even in his elderly years, it was important for him to see his collection complete.  Doing tasks were important.  Seeing things through.  Taking something that was once used for one purpose and making it useful in another way gave him great pleasure.  One of my mother’s greatest treasures is the skeleton of one of his bonsai trees that had died.  He could not stand to throw it away so he bought little red ribbon roses and glued them on the ends of the branches to make an eternal bouquet of what was once his prized bonsai.

That is where this task driven effort was coming from.  I have a friend who rightly calls me a “piddler”.  I love to sharpen all of the pencils, check the ink in a box of markers, put all the puzzle pieces in the right box, and check to make sure all of the game pieces are in the correct section of the game box.  I wanted to see how the lights on this little tree were actually twisted on at the factory,  and I wanted to discover the best way to remove them from our beloved tree – no matter how much time it piddled away.

I had a great time, rolling the tree around in my lap, thinking about the way my dad would have done it.  I took pleasure in “using it up, wearing it out, making it do…”  I had a moment with my dad, and in the end, I was moved by a sense of accomplishment as the last bulb fell from the tree.

*Although not my dad’s original jingle, the following was something his family often heard him repeat.  Coming from the Great Depression era, it was something that he not only said, but something he practiced.

 

USE IT UP

WEAR IT OUT

MAKE IT DO

OR DO WITHOUT

Day 11: Dear Peacemakers

*Big thanks to my friend and former college roommate, Sarah Donaghy, for sharing her grateful thoughts on Day 11 of the Dear Gratitude project.*

The hardest part about being a guest blogger this month was deciding to whom or what I should write my letter of gratitude. I dwell in gratitude. Even in times when nothing is going right, and I see challenges on every front, I still feel grateful. When I choose to sit in disappointment, anger, pain, or sadness, I still feel grateful. Living in gratitude is a choice, and it’s a practice that works for me. So, as I looked forward to writing this post, I’ve spent the last few days with lots of ideas rattling around my head… dear hugs, dear change, dear Mom, dear adventure, dear garden full of weeds, dear Mary Oliver, dear loss, dear name of friend, dear name of another friend, dear body, dear education, dear Louis CK, dear pets, dear modern appliances, and so on.

Over the past few days I have also received a number of reminders that Veteran’s Day is coming up. The first was when a member of the local food club asked if the Monday pick-up would be rescheduled due to the holiday. I looked at him blankly. “What holiday?” I thought. He read my mind. The second was when an aunt let me know that a package she mailed to me would arrive on Tuesday since the USPS won’t be making its rounds on Monday. The third was the cover of the Sunday newspaper’s magazine section promoting a special report inside titled, “What Did You Do in the War, Mommy?” about the challenges servicewomen who are mothers face in coming home after a deployment.

It then occurred to me that Bethany would be publishing my letter on Veteran’s Day. Thus began the second hardest part of my task… how to address my letter and what I would say in a letter expressing my gratitude.

 

Dear Veterans – Thank you.

 

Or

 

Dear Grandpa – You talked about “the war” like New Yorkers talk about “the city”… sure, there are other cities, but none of them compare to your city. The war defined you, and the war never really ended for you, and thus, the war is something that defined and never really ended for my mom and her siblings as well. A generation removed, the war – your war – certainly impacted my life as it was a major influence in the way my mother lived and parented. While I remember many an afternoon sitting on the blue sectional couch in front of the picture window looking at the Bridger Mountains and listening to your war stories, the first things that come to mind when I think of you as my grandpa are your grilled cheese sandwiches, the way your jeans hung on you, your love of ice cream, riding in your truck to check on the cows, your hugs, and your incredible generosity – to me and to complete strangers. I hope there are no wars wherever you are now.

 

Or

 

Dear Grandpa – I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing you directly but I know it was a pleasure for those who did, particularly your family. You were also in the war… the same war and yet, it seems it was an entirely different experience for you. You rarely, if ever, spoke of your experience. In fact, one of the few “war stories” recounted on that side of the family is about your wife, my Grandma Lulu, taking the train across the country – from New York City (the city) to Seattle – to see you when you were stateside, a visit during which, I think the story goes, my father, your first child, was planted. So while I’m sure the war had more of an impact on your life than you spoke about upon return, it’s not what comes to mind when I think of you as my grandpa, and I’m confident saying it’s not the first thing that comes to mind when your children think of you as their father. I hope that you and my dad are enjoying each other again, and I hope there are no wars wherever you guys are now.

 

Or

 

Dear Man I Met in a Bar a Few Months Ago – I only met you once, but you have the honor of being someone I will likely always remember because I was celebrating the launch of RadSab that night. I only remember a handful of things you told me about yourself, and I don’t recall if it was Iraq or Afghanistan or with what branch of the military, but you said you were there a few years ago. I couldn’t help but think of how that must have been for your daughters – I remember you have two of them, girls old enough to have known you were away and likely why you were away and how hard that must have been for them… how hard that must have been for you.

 

Or

 

Dear Couple I Recently Had the Opportunity to Reconnect With – You were amazingly open and honest with a group of mostly strangers, and having your participation was my favorite part of our discussion course. You guys are a reminder to me that people’s stories don’t start at the point where I meet them. Something I didn’t know about you, Mr., was that you were a Marine, and I appreciate what you shared about that experience. I’m not sure if that was before or after the Mrs. became such, but I couldn’t help but think of how that recent part of your young life must factor into your marriage. I love how brave you are with each other, and I look forward to knowing both of you more.

 

Those are all important things to say, especially thank you, to people who have touched my life in one way or another. And thank you is always enough, but it’s simply too short when Bethany the Blog Boss has asked for a page.

Drawing on some loosely planted Quaker roots, I’ve decided to go with…

 

Dear Peacemakers,

Thank you. You have my gratitude.

I think peace begins within each of us. For me, dwelling in gratitude, practicing mindfulness, and cultivating joy are essential.

 

The Peace of Wild Things

by Wendell Berry

 

014When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 

With our voices, our wallets, our votes, and our service, we each have opportunities to sow seeds of peace in our communities, in our country, in our world.

Thank you, Peacemakers. You have my gratitude.

Love and good wishes,

Sarah

Day 12–Sensing

*Thanks to my friend Kristy Hutchinson for sharing today’s post. May all of us be granted the ability to find gratitude wherever we are today.*

I wasn’t there when he died. He sat on the couch, they say, choking and sputtering. He asked my mother and my aunt to go to the store to get him some decongestant. He asked for his brother. Then he couldn’t ask for anything.

I’m sorry I didn’t hear.

His daughters weren’t there when he died. They didn’t see him struggle for his last breath, didn’t hear him choking on his phlegm.  They couldn’t watch as the coroner closed his eyes and removed his body.

I wish I could have been there, to hold his hand and hear his straggling breath, to tell him I would be better, that I would learn from his mistakes, that I would succeed, that I would make him proud, fall in love, and die someday, too. I wish I could have closed his tired eyes and died for a moment with him.

I’m sorry I didn’t see.

How many times have you suddenly lost the ability to use one of your five senses? Whether it be out of convenience or out of sheer over abundance of sensitivity, we just don’t use our God-given tools to observe and experience life.  Think of how much we could learn by watching, hearing, feeling life if we could just take the moment to do it.

I have been a smoker for the better part of sixteen years. The story I told above is true. My grandfather died of Emphysema in our living room, days after I had returned to Lyon to complete my Senior year. I lived with him for an entire semester.  We were roommates, and he swallowed morphine every night to go to sleep, hacking and coughing the whole way.

Yet, I didn’t see him struggle to do everyday things.  I did, but I wouldn’t absorb it, believe that I too one day wouldn’t be able to take a shower on my own, use the bathroom, or get dressed. I let the things I saw pass by without taking stock in them, without really seeing.

I work in an office in which I routinely ask for someone’s first name. Over half of the time I usually get “Joe Smith,” the person spitting out their first and last name before I can protest. Or I ask for an email address and get a street address, et cetera.

The above examples are trivial, but you get the point.  So much of our lives we experience on auto-pilot. We go about our days ( or at least some of you may) in a bit of a self-absorbed fog, where we sit in a drive thru, not listening to the song playing on the radio, not listening to the operator taking your order and not listening to the person on the other end of the cell phone dangling from your ear.

Next time you think about it, just stop everything you can, just for a moment, and think about what our senses are meant to do. We as a species must evolve, adapt, learn and change to survive. If we can’t bring ourselves to learn from the mistakes of others, if we can’t stop and feel a little pain, we won’t learn, we won’t adapt, we will become stagnant and fail.

I wish I could have been present for his death, but even more, for his life. Now, if I try to recall his struggle, the memories are faint and fleeting. For nine days now, I have tried to remember, to realize that I, too, would one day hack and cough, be unable to breathe, need someone to tie my shoes if I were to continue to smoke. For nine days now, I have tried to use my senses to absorb as much of this bittersweet, enrapturing, miracle called life. And for this, I am grateful.