As you get ready for Thanksgiving, take a few moments to focus on the true meaning of the holiday. Enjoy Shannon Greer's touching reflection on cultivating and expressing gratitude.
By Shannon Greer, assistant director-Learning Resource Center
I have a dear friend whose pet peeve I’ve adopted. Whenever he thanks anyone, and the reply is “No problem,” he sort of vibrates with annoyance.
At first, I didn’t understand why someone’s “No problem” was any different from the more standard “You’re welcome,” but he has helped me to see that by saying “No problem,” there is, in fact, the suggestion that the request made may have generated an unwelcome burden, and the response is insincere at best. “You’re welcome” is, instead, a gracious way of acknowledging the gratitude expressed by the recipient of a favor or gift.
But I think it’s the "Thank You" that matters more.
I am guilty of routinely asking my daughters to do things for me. Sometimes, in a rush, I will bark out commands: “Take out the garbage, please,” “Let the dogs out,” “Unload the dishwasher.”
Usually (I think) I remember to say “please.” Being children, and mostly compliant ones at that, they almost always obey my request (or face a stiff penalty typically doled out in terms of how long they can be out with friends, or which sleepover they cannot attend). Shamefully, I do not always remember to say “Thank You” after said task is complete.
One evening, under the strain of high school FaceBook drama, my wise-for-her-years sixteen year-old daughter stood at the kitchen counter, spoon in one hand, frosty tub of Moose Tracks Breyers in the other, and said to me, “You know, it’d really be nice if you said “Thank you” to me when I clean up around here.”
My knee-jerk reaction was near outrage. How dare she tell ME to say thank you to HER? I work all day long, cook, clean, and provide her with overly-priced, poorly constructed T-shirts from the strangely dark pseudo-surfing store in the mall…she should be thanking me!! And often!!
And then, after choking back those indignant sentiments, it dawned on me: Thank you is critically important for everyone to hear, and for those on the receiving end of any sort of generosity to offer. “Thank you” recognizes. “Thank you” appreciates. “Thank you” loves. I made a mental note to pay more attention to my gratitude quotient.
There has been a lot written about gratitude in recent years. There are gratitude books, and gratitude journals, and articulate, lovely people in Oprah’s magazine who write about gratitude. I’ve read those articles, but can’t seem to manage the consistency necessary to keep a gratitude journal. Color me undisciplined, but usually I get two or three days into any kind of diary or journal keeping, and I just fizzle.
Instead, I have gratitude pebbles.
These are not like Fruity Pebbles, although I think I bought them at the SuperTarget. I have, on my lanai’s wicker table, a small green ceramic plate full of pebbles collected from the bed of some curving brown river, I imagine, slicing through some beautiful remote verdant place (…I like to think this because then the pebbles match more fully to the Zen theme I have going in my special corner of the lanai. If I thought about them as coming from some quarry in OshKosh, it might wreck the mood for me).
To be honest, I’ve only taken these pebbles out of their plate, naming something I’m grateful for with the plunk of each one onto the table, once or twice.
The very first time, I figured I would have ten or so laid out in no time, and then I would replace them, having run dry of ideas about who or what I appreciate having in my life and with the goal of being able to name more the next time. I laid out one for my husband, one for each of my daughters, my friends, my mom…there are so many people in my life with whom I am lucky to spend time. Then I plunked pebbles down for my circumstances…one for my fantastic job, my beautiful office, my comfortable house, my reliable car….
It didn’t take long until they were spilling off the table.
One more for the freedoms I have in this country, one for the opportunity to vote (not so long ago, women died for that right….).
One for men and women willing to work as police officers, nurses, soldiers, firefighters, garbage collectors…to make my life safer, healthier, and more pleasant.
One for all the teachers I’ve had (which is sort of like cheating, because they are each seriously deserving of their own, individual pebble, but Hey! The table is only so big…).
One for my very best friend, who loves me and listens to me, and, remarkably, understands me even when I am being completely irrational.
One for my boss, who is so good to me. One for my work-mates, who are such fun.
One for the people who annoy me, and by doing so, teach me patience.
The thing that surprised me most was how easily I piled more and more pebbles onto the growing mound, stopping every few minutes to retrieve one that slipped to the floor. Gratitude oozed from me, and it was sincere.
And it felt fabulous.
Love energy began buzzing in my fingers as I selected each pebble. Before long, I was putting one for the beauty of the moon in the heap, one for the fuzzy orange-rose haze of dawn, one for the possibility of airline travel, one for art: all of the artists and their work who have made me so happy…you see where this is going, don’t you? One for the music that soothes me or makes me want to dance, one for all the poetry ever written, and one special one for Pablo Neruda…
The longer I sat there and surveyed my life, the easier it became for me to recognize and acknowledge that I am so very, very blessed. Not just personally, as a result of people who are near me, but also blessed with opportunity, possibility, freedom, potential, tolerance, safety, and a certain measure of peace. And love. So Much Love.
Counting those pebbles was a really great high. Cleaning them up and returning them to their dish? Yeah. Not so much.
This is why they often remain there, sleeping gently in the cradle of green ceramic. All piled up like that…it is sort of like my personal Big Picture. They are evidence of the big pile of good things I have surrounding me--helping me feel protected, nurtured, loved.
Now, when I sit out on my lanai near my many lush tropical plants and my verdigris Buddha fountain (that I allotted a pebble for in my pile because it is my second favorite place to be, and I am there often), I look at my dish of pebbles, and I acknowledge, silently, everything and everyone for whom I am so exceedingly grateful.
Whatever our circumstances, I am inclined to believe there are genuine wonders around each of us deserving of our gratitude. It’s not a requirement to enumerate them, I don’t think, for happiness, but I highly recommend it.
Please share with us what you are grateful for this Thanksgiving.
Shannon Greer, SLU Class of ’04, is Assistant Director of the Learning Resource Center, her home-away-from-home, where she manages SLU’s Collaborative Learning programs and the LRC’s incredible team of student tutors, who inspire her every day. Shannon is almost finished with her MA in Humanities from California State University, and loves reading novels, writing letters, crafting poems, watching films, listening to music, and hanging out with her amazing friends — all sedentary, but thoroughly enjoyable activities. You can reach Shannon at (352) 588-8302 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image Credits: Pixabay
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