Friday, October 7, 2011

Expressions of Gratitude From Unexpected Sources

As I write this post, both of my feet are relaxing in an Epsom salt bath and I am feeling grateful that my journey of healing from a variety of injuries is nearing an end.

This has been a summer of “one thing after another”, resulting in a series of injuries that has severely impacted my mobility and reduced my personal travel to essential destinations only.

One of the places that I like to visit that has not been on my essential destination list (try as I might to prove otherwise) is the local Starbucks where I am a regular customer.

When it was noticed that I hadn’t been there for a while, I was surprised and grateful to receive emails, tweets, Facebook messages and the like from the staff of Starbucks, expressing concern over my absence and upon learning of my injuries, sending me get-well greetings and promises of “home delivery”.

How many Starbucks do you know that can provide home delivery?

I was also humbled when friends who see me at the same Starbucks noticed that I hadn’t been around for awhile and sent notes of inquiry, concern and subsequent get-well wishes.

However, what surprised me were the number of strangers who sent me similar queries, wondering where I was and expressing wishes that I would be back soon.

Many of these emails opened with lines similar to “You may not know me but … “ or “This may seem weird to you but ….”.

Now they weren’t complete strangers although I didn’t know their names until they wrote me.

They were from people I saw at Starbucks on a regular basis.

They were curious where the guy went who always had a nice word to say to their kids when standing in line, who answered occasional business advice questions they dared to ask, who always had an inspiring quotation or a word of advice when people struggled, who always sat there with his laptop and stack of books on the table and who always concluded an exchange with “create a great day”.

When the guy disappeared, they asked others in the coffee shop what the guy’s name was, looked him up on the web, found his email address and emailed him.

They wanted to reach out to say hi, to see how he was doing (or even if he was still in the area) and to express thanks in case the opportunity to meet again had passed.

And I was grateful, humbled and honored to receive their gratitude and to finally put some names with the faces.

Many of you have similar relationships with people that you don’t really know.  Maybe it’s the person you sit next to on the bus or subway for years on your way to work, the person who hands you breakfast in a drive thru window every day or the parent you see dropping off a child at a bus stop every morning.

They are the people you see, speak to and share a common experience with every day without REALLY getting to know them.

We don’t bother building deep relationships with all of them because we assume that if we were to do so, our lives would be overwhelmed with so many relationships.  Our lives are busy enough, we reason.

And besides, why bother building these relationships?  We aren’t really influencing each other anyway so why bother spending time to really get to know each other.

Not influencing each other at all … can we be so sure of that?

As I read emails from strangers expressing gratitude, I am reminded of how the little things we say or do have a larger impact on others than we realize.

Gratitude is an interesting thing.

Many of us claim to feel grateful for all the things we own, all the events we have experienced, our families,or friends, etc.

But too many of us keep our gratitude within, expressing it silently to ourselves in our thoughts, prayers or journals.  Sometimes we express it to others and then feel a little silly and make a joke about “a mushy moment”.  We may wait until an event like a birthday or other event where we can express our gratitude under the guise of the “I had to give them a gift because it was ____day”.

Gratitude kept within is all well and good.

But it has its greatest potential to make a difference in the world when it is freely shared, whether it be a kind word, a small act or some other token of appreciation.

It could be something as simple as an email from a stranger that says “thank you for your influence”.

It is not the size of the gift that is important.

It is the expression itself that matters.

William Arthur Ward once wrote:

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”

Take a moment and reach out to someone, even a complete stranger you see on a regular basis, and thank them for their influence on your Life.

At that moment, you will both be changed for the better.

In service and servanthood,


PS For my many friends and family in Canada, may you create a Blessed Thanksgiving this weekend, surrounded by the people who matter to you.  For my many friends and family in the US whose Thanksgiving is more than a month away, you still have much to be thankful for in a world filled with uncertainty.  Embrace it – gratitude expressed can form the foundation upon which better things can be built.

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