When you walk into his house which smells of potting soil and black-eyed pea soup, the rugs covering the hard wood floor, cello posing gracefully on its side, he makes sure that you know that you are welcome there.
Thank you so much for coming today!
How are you doing?
I'm so glad you could come.
It is so good to see you.
Tell me what's happening with you right now?
And it goes on. At times, he's so thorough in his discourse that it gets almost awkward, almost uncomfortable.
The music he plays - even though its technically a lesson for my sister - seems that it is played as a gift. Offered up. Given with joy. To anyone who will listen.
I saw this man outside the good food store, right before I left for school, and I almost didn't recognize him (clean-shaven, remember?). When I shout after him, recognizing that gliding walk, he turns and walks towards me, and he is - well, he's thankful. He's absolutely tickled that I got his attention to say hello.
He asks about me. He always does. I tell him about going to midwifery school. His face crinkles in joy - and he tells me what a special job it is, how I'll do great - things I've heard from everyone else. They're easy things to pass off because everyone says those things.
But then I tell him about the living situation: 10 girls in a two-bedroom house for three months. I tell him about the intensity of the school: 18 months of academic training crammed into 3 months.
His face changes to concern - but not caution concern, more like encouraging concern. "You can do this, but you have to take care of yourself," he says. He gives me a list. Have consideration for yourself, be kind to yourself. Find what works for you with studying and living in general. Give yourself two months before you freak out; it takes your brain that long to figure out how to think in new ways. Go back to what you know about yourself.
That's when it hit. This man, who had never ever been unkind or unpleasant, is overflowing with gratitude. He's grateful for you, and your presence, and your input on life. He is grateful for his every breath, for the ability he has to take his white van with the canoe on top to the lake every weekend, for the fact that he can play cello and enjoy it, that he lives in a beautiful town, that he lives. He is filled with gratitude. And he fills others because of his fullness.
Let's break down the phrase:
Gratitude: latin, meaning "thanks", "goodwill", "favor", "kindness", "devotion", "loyalty", "affection", and of course, "gratitude".
Practice: latin, meaning "use", "experience", "habit", "manner", "training", "exercise", "custom", "meditate", "contemplate", "prepare", "adjust", and "think over".
So to be able to make kindness a training, an exercise, a custom. To meditate over loyalty and affection. To make goodwill a preparation and an adjustment to life. To make favor an experience and devotion a manner...this - not just saying 'thank you' but having the presence of mind to go deeper into thought-through applied appreciation - is quite possibly the hardest challenge I will ever undertake.
With gratitude, sometimes you have to start with the little things. I got to go to the Oregon Coast for Thanksgiving. (I live in Montana, which is gloriously beautiful, but I have a deep love for the ocean.) So I am SO grateful for that. But something deeper...perhaps I could be grateful for the relationship with my sisters. Those haven't come easy over the years. We are the epitome of ups-and-downs. But I wouldn't throw those relationships (with all the good and bad times mixed in) for anything. Have I shown appreciation for that?
*insert awkward silence and cricket noises here*
How could I do that? Heartfelt notes? Baking cookies into scrolls which sing my sisters praises? Kidnapping them for coffee dates so I can shower them with good vibes and caffeine? Spamming their phones with thank you-thank you-thank you's?
This could work.
I could also simply take the time to say "Hey - I appreciate you and all you do, and I want you to know that our relationship is very important to me, and I love you a lot, despite the fact that you may have made me fear for my life on more than one occasion during my childhood." (Note: the last part of that could be omitted.)
Practice gratitude. It will not be easy. You will forget, you will fail, you will despair and think that you will never conquer the 'practice gratitude' thing. (Hello. Join the club.) But practice gets easier. It expands you. You gradually become familiar with the territory you've already covered. You know the steps, and some of them will still cause you to trip. But gradually, you'll know the path. The gratitude will come, closer to the surface, spilling over easier with every practicing step which - hopefully in a good way - jostles another person's world.
And jostling can feel forced, and fake. And you gotta press through. Its a heart issue. Let God change you, let him make you gratuitous, and thankful, and let him fill you. Let it spill. Let gratitude jostle your world, and other's worlds. Gratitude goes around. You'll never regret saying a nice thing, you'll never regret 'seeing' a person, and making sure that they are loved. Jostling another person's world might be just what they - and you - need this holiday season.