This week, a good friend of mine is writing a eulogy for her beloved grandmother. She will deliver it to a packed church in a small town in Alberta this weekend. My friend is a splendid writer and a beautiful soul and I know that she will do her family proud. She will say all the right things and people will be reminded of all the ways that her grandmother was a special human being, all the ways she lived and loved well.
Another friend, who endured an emotionally brutal loss last year, is thanking the friends who helped her get through it by making a “gratitude mix.” A CD filled with words and songs to express her thanks to those who stood by her and loved her. These people—who sent poems and drew artwork, who called on the phone and reminded her how strong and brave and resilient she is—will hear my friend’s deep appreciation for what they did when they listen to their CDs.
All of this has got me thinking about the ways we say thank you to those we love or those who have touched our lives. And also how important it is. Not only as a way to acknowledge and connect with others, but as a tool for our own growth and happiness.
I’ve written before about how powerful I find the daily practice of appreciation. It seems to amplify all that is good and going well and diminishes the tendency to complain or be critical.
An easy way to do this is first thing in the morning, before you even get out of bed. Making a small mental list of what you appreciate only takes a few minutes and, in my experience, starts the day off right. The natural break that suppertime brings also works. Sometimes, my daughter and I will tell each other something we’re grateful for from the day. Just last night, we thanked the farmers who helped to grow what we were eating. We are lucky to know many of them by name, which makes it more fun (and the list includes a teacher at her school who doubles as a blueberry grower and sheep farmer!).
A few years ago, as a way of extending my appreciation practice, I decided to send thank you notes to people who were strangers to me, but who had in some way touched my life. They were people who had written books and pieces of music that had become an integral part of my inner landscape, and in some cases utterly changed me. I wanted these artists to know their impact on me, so I set out to tell them what their art meant. Many of the musicians and the writers wrote me back, personally, to thank me for reaching out! This surprised me at the time, but I understand it more fully now.
When you put a part of yourself out there, it feels rewarding and wonderful to know that what you created actually touched someone else. (This is my chance to say how much I appreciate every person who has taken the time to write me or share what I’ve written with others. Your public comments on the website or FaceBook and your private emails, phone calls, and texts mean the world to me. Thank you!)
Our lives are long and if we really turn our minds to it, there are so many people to thank. The friends who are still friends. The therapist who helped us turn a corner. The teacher who encouraged a talent we didn’t know we had. Parents who asked us to be brave in the face of fear.
A few years ago, I found some old letters from a long-ago friend. Julia was someone I worked with in my early twenties. She was older than me, and definitely wiser. She was like a breath of fresh air in the place we worked, sincere and authentic. She wrote me terrific letters and when I re-read them, I realized that she was one of the first people who took the time to really “connect.” It was also clear, through her words, that she saw “me,” and wanted to know that person, not the face I presented to the world. Her letters talked about the value of “going within” and befriending what I found. It took me many more years to actually do this, but I credit Julia with planting a seed.
The day I found her letters, I googled her name and quickly had a phone number. I wanted her to know she had impacted me and that she had made a difference, so without stopping to think, I called her. I’m so glad I did. It would have been easy to read those letters and privately acknowledge the role she played. But there was something really special in closing the loop. She was shocked to hear from me and so appreciated that I had reached out. It felt better than I could have imagined to say “thank you” to her, more than twenty years later, for seeing me and encouraging me to be my full unique self.
This leads to a question. Is our gratitude for others always linked to an impact they have on us? Often it is, but I think we can also appreciate things about another without any thought to what they have done for us. In the same way that we call that kind of love “unconditional,” I wonder if the act of entering deeply into appreciation or gratitude for another human being, based on simply who they are, not what they do for us, could be called “unconditional gratitude.”
We all fall into the trap of noticing what our mate or our children or our siblings or our parents aren’t doing “right” (why can’t he ever remember to clear his plate? why is she not listening to me?). Could we instead focus our attention on what we really love and appreciate about those who most closely share our lives? When was the last time we sat any one of them down to thank them for being the beautiful soul they are? Things like: I love that you dance around the kitchen when you’re cooking us supper. I love that don’t even flinch when you warm up my cold feet. I love that I can find you in the store by listening for you whistling your favourite tune.
I remember once receiving a letter from my dear friend, Stuart, describing, in great detail, all the wonderful things he sees in me. His letter made me cry. I had no idea he thought many of the things he wrote down. The fact that it was spontaneous (not for any special occasion), beautifully hand-written, and filled not only with his time, but with his heart, have all stayed with me.
All of us need to be seen for who we are and what we bring into the world. Stuart’s letter was one of the best gifts I ever received because he did exactly that for me. It was 1000 times better than him buying me a present.
Would you consider taking the time to create and send a surprise letter or card to someone close to you? Basically, a “Wow, I can’t believe how amazing you are and thank you for being in my life” note.
Pick a special someone and tell them exactly what you most love and appreciate about them. Tell them the world is a better place with them in it. Regale them with details of all that you love about who they are. You won’t believe how good you’ll feel, and in all likelihood, you’ll make someone’s day, and just maybe their whole year.