Even though Thanksgiving is still a few weeks away, it is easy to think about gratitude on a day like today. The sky is crystal blue, the air is fresh and crisp and leaves have turned shades of gold and red. In other words, when life is just about perfect, it is easy to feel grateful for what we have. Unfortunately, jobs are still scarce, loved ones get ill and sooner or later perfect autumn days give way to winter snow and ice.
Late one autumn day a few years ago, a child taught us something about the power of gratitude. It was almost dark when we followed a pick-up truck loaded with furniture through a section of town known for low-rent apartments. We didn’t know much about the family we had come to help other than the mother, her 7-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter were starting life over in an empty apartment. A benefactor had donated beds and a parishioner had loaded everything on his truck. It didn’t seem as though the few things we brought — beds, bedding, a couple of lamps and child-sized beanbag chairs — could do much to fill the empty apartment.
Fall leaves soaked by an earlier rain swirled into the entry each time we opened the door. Hands and elbows banged against doorjambs. Strained muscles went unnoticed while we focused completely on the task at hand.
During this entire venture, the boy and girl watched us closely and the chatter of their young voices filled the air. As each mattress fell in place, they helped their mother smooth out linens to make the bed. Then, as we headed for the door, the girl fished something out of her pocket. “Here” she said. “These are for good people,” and she placed two small seashells in each of our hands. We thanked her, said our goodbyes and headed out in silence. Although none of us said a word at the moment, we knew we had been paid in full.
That night we were exhausted when we climbed into our own warm bed. We spoke briefly about the day. Both of us had been thinking about the seashells and what they meant to us. The generosity of God surrounds us, and yet how easily we take warm beds, plenty of food, money and home for granted.*
Author Melody Beattie wrote: “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more.” It took the gift of a child to remind us gratitude fills not only the heart of the giver, but the heart of the receiver.
*Story of seashells adapted from “Grounded in God” by Jim and Ann Cavera. Liguori Press 2006. Deacon Jim and Ann Cavera live in Bowling Green.