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Gratitude – The Essence of Our Humanity

“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” 
― John F. Kennedy

Gratitude is essential if we want to ensure we are strong in the face of events and crises that threaten to overwhelm our being.  It is important we acknowledge their impact, and to seek the silver lining, though it may be tarnished, maybe nearly invisible. 

Over the past three years our family has experienced diagnoses of cancer, the loss of our only grandchild and the loss of my mom.  Of these, my mom’s passing was the only “normal” event.  She was one month shy of 86, and had lived a full life on the terms she had set.  At the end, she was ready, lying peacefully on her bed, waiting for her transition.  I however, wasn’t.  I was still reeling with all the other situations that swirled around us like a violent storm, leaving a wide swath of carnage in its wake.  I felt ungrounded and fragile as I sought to come to grips with my new status as an orphan, a one-time grandmother, a person with cancer.  I could not find solace in the fact that none of these events came to me as a result of ‘bad’ living. I couldn’t find solace because most of us don’t flail about in ‘badness’.  We are the persons who get hit by an errant fly ball racing into the stands; we are irrelevant targets.

So, how do we find that silver lining?

We are grateful.  Maybe we are grateful for things – like the Roma tomato plant that grows outside my back door and has given me four quarts of frozen tomatoes with perhaps another four to go.  Maybe we are grateful for people – the stranger who shares an experience of their life unasked; the person who speaks for us because we can’t find the words or the strength to speak for ourselves.  Perhaps we are grateful for the small gestures that come our way, the compassionate smiles, the gentle hand across our back, the dog that noses our palm over their head.  All of these are indications that we are searching for a sense of relationship, of belonging to something larger than ourselves.  And when we are, maybe we’re grateful that we’re in some way remembered.

A few years ago, a young woman working at the bookstore I frequented, looked at the signature of the check I handed her, and asked if I was the person who gave talks in the grade schools about archaeology.   When I said yes, her eyes grew bright with excitement.  She’d heard one of them when she was in fourth grade, and since that time, had become infatuated with that ancient landscape, with the people who there.  She’d read everything she could find about their lifestyles: their camps, their hunts, their stories told on winter nights in the flickering orange of a fire.  Her mind, fifteen years later, still replayed pieces of that talk she’d heard all those years ago.

I had no idea that I’d made any kind of lasting impact; they were just talks about things that interested me, to children who, I hoped, had as much curiosity about the world as I did.  But the fact she remembered, the fact she followed that passion for years afterward, and the fact that she remembered my name was, to be honest, pretty heady.  To have someone say thank you is pretty heady.  

I am grateful for so many things: for the beautiful flowers that cluster throughout my backyard, balms to my frayed soul; for the people that have come into my life, or allowed me into theirs; for the feathery patterns of the high cirrus clouds that swirl across a bright blue Colorado sky.

But gratitude, gratitude takes gratefulness a step further.  It is not just acknowledging a person’s thoughtfulness, their actions, but thanking that person for that action.   Those Roma tomatoes on my patio?  I thank my son for planting them, a gift to replace the ones I’d planted, which froze with a late frost.  I thank the woman who shared her experience of breast cancer with me as we sat over a cup of tea, my hand wrapped tightly around the mug, cold in my fear.  I felt less isolated.  I thank the radiology nurses for their kindness and attention, the snippets they shared of their families, their experiences, their weekend lives, as I lay for fifteen minutes beneath the radiology machine each day for forty days.   Their testimony of every-day lives made mine seem almost like theirs.   And I thank the nurses and doctors for the care they took of Riley, my grandson, and the care they took, and several of them continue to take, of my son and his wife as they sough to support them through their loss.  

No, gratitude is not the same as being grateful. 

Gratitude is acknowledging and thanking others for what they have given us.

Gratitude is the essence of our humanity. 

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