By Sister Louisa Dwyer, OSF
Thank you, Salamar, Grazias, Merci. Taudi, Dank u wel, Masuma, Maraba. The language doesn’t matter. It’s the intention behind the words that gives them meaning. Some would argue there are no words in any language that are as important as those that express gratitude.
A few years ago, I was having a discussion with some first-graders. We had all agreed that one should always express thanks for a kind word or gesture and certainly for a gift.
One little girl, crossed her arms, emphatically disagreed as she pronounced, “Nuh Unh!” All eyes focused on her as a male counterpart questioned, “Well, just why not?” As she looked at the questioner with a touch of disdain, she replied, “Everybody knows you shouldn’t say something unless you really mean it.”
I wasn’t sure where the conversation was going, but I shouldn’t have worried. The young boy, after thinking for a moment shouted, “I’ve got it!” With a triumphant look on his sunkissed face, he revealed: “You could just say, ‘Thank you … I guess.’”
I’m not sure that was a solution, but real gratitude is born in the heart. Sometimes it is so deeply felt that it can only be expressed in tears or an embrace. Most of us learned the need to express gratitude from our parents. My mother taught my sister and me the need to express gratitude to anyone who took the time to remember a birthday, some accomplishment or even a kind word in a time of sorrow.
This practice my sister passed on to her children. I shall always remember with a smile receiving not one thank you note, but two from one of my nephews. He sent the first note, but then discovered a more humorous card and sent it, too. Down in the corner of the second card he had written, “Oh no, I’ve become my mother.”
Sometimes gratitude is so deeply felt, it can be seen on the face of an individual or in some gesture. Is that enough?
There are those who would argue the fact, but I tend to feel it is true. I recall seeing an elderly lady in a supermarket. It was obvious she was having difficulty juggling her cane and two bags of groceries. I asked if I could help her. She looked at me with watery eyes, said not a word, but let me take the groceries from her. She lived just across the street from the store so together we went to her house and I deposited the groceries on the kitchen table.
As I turned to leave, she grabbed my hands and kissed them as tears ran down her weathered cheeks. No words were exchanged. None were needed.
At times one may feel others have a better life. Perhaps that is so, but I am tempted to remember the song, “The Best Things in Life are Free.” These are the things that can’t be purchased — a baby’s smile, the first flower of spring, a mother duck leading her ducklings to water, a puppy’s wagging tail, a soldier returning home from combat, a rainbow in the sky, a scrunched-up card a 6-year-old made for Mother’s Day and the list goes on.
Through the years, the sages have expounded on the idea of gratitude. Cicero wrote “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” The great Albert Schweitzer said, “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”
Mark Twain added: “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see. My favorite quote comes from Meister Eckhardt. He wrote, “If the only prayer you ever say in your life is thank you, it will be enough.”
This Thanksgiving, let us be grateful for all those persons and events in our lives that have made us who we are and it will be enough.
(Sr. Louisa Dwyer is a member of Sisters of St. Francis of Clinton.)