Years ago I was introduced to a woman named LuLu that was trying to get sober. She had just lost her job, was being evicted from her apartment and was about to be on the street with her 3 year old child. She had a hodge-podge of furniture and clothes that were still sitting in the old apartment where the utilities had been cut-off. She had exactly $47 to her name and a broken down car.
I moved her in with me and my then boyfriend, so she could get on her feet. I was kind of figuring that we would try to get her another job and place to live and if that failed after a couple of weeks I would have to take her home to her parents, who lived in a small town about 3 hours away.
Within 48 hours, LuLu had a new job, making more money than the one she had been laid off of. She signed the lease on a “free move-in” new apartment (utilities came with it). Her old furniture and clothes were delivered, to the new apartment, along with some good quality used furniture, that was given to her by the guy that moved her furniture (for free). Her car was repaired for free, by a friend and he had added a full tank of gas. There were plenty of groceries in the kitchen of the new apartment provided by an anonymous source. Her parents wired her a couple of hundred dollars, to tide her over till she got paid.
My head was spinning, as all these miracles were happening.
In the meantime, LuLu was constantly complaining. The apartment was “too small”. The car was still an “old clunker”. All the furniture she was given was “used”. All those groceries were mainly food for the kid. In the new job she was going to have to work side-by-side with a bunch of “foreigners”. Her parents were supposedly being “cheap” because she knew for a fact that they could afford more.
So as the world, friends, family and benevolent strangers rallied around LuLu she remained implacable. Not one ounce of gratitude ever spilled out of her. I actually never heard her say, “thank you” to anyone. Within months, we lost track of each other. For awhile, she blurred in with the steady stream of people that I met during the “community volunteer” phase of my life.
A Lesson in Gratitude
Then I met Darlene in 1985 or so. She was a 19 year old street kid, a prostitute, noticeably blind in one eye and she was gay. I spent some time with Darlene and figured it was time to teach her a lesson in gratitude.
So we headed out to a 24 hour diner and I got out 2 pieces of paper and 2 pens. Then I proceeded to tell Darlene that I was going to write a list of the things that I was grateful for and she should try to do the same.
While I am jotting down 10 things Darlene is writing in her careful tiny handwriting on back and front of the page. And then sideways. She has filled her page with all the things she’s grateful for. Number one was shoes. Number 51 was me. It was the most beautiful gratitude list I had ever seen.
And I realized I knew nothing about being grateful.
Smitty Explains 3 Things About Gratitude
I went to my old friend Smitty and told him the story about LuLu and Darlene. Smitty was a kind, smart and funny, retired Colonel who had been shot down in Vietnam. He was always filled with advice and wisdom.
Anyway, Smitty told me these 3 things that have stayed with me over 35 years now and they still sound right to me.
1. If You Are Honest You Are Grateful
If you are honest you are grateful, because you always know that you are not a victim and we are routinely given second chances that we don’t deserve. So if someone is totally refusing to be grateful, it is most likely a sign, that they can’t be honest with themselves (like LuLu perhaps). Darlene was grateful for shoes because she had experienced life on the street, in the winter time, when she had outgrown her shoes. Her gratitude was the result of being barefoot in the cold. She understood how bad life could be and how good it was right at that moment, when she was writing her list. She was more honest than I was that day.
2. You May Have to Work on Being Grateful
Just like you may have to work on being honest, you need to work on being grateful. Gratitude lists are a start. A gratitude journal is better. Thanking whatever higher power or God daily or hourly is a good beginning.
Growing gratitude in your life is a spiritual quest. The more honest you are, the more grateful you become. The more grateful you become, the more honest you are. Honesty and gratitude feed each other. You have to nurture them separately so they can nurture each other.
3. Don’t Miss the Miracles
I recognized all the miracles that LuLu was experiencing, but I couldn’t get her to see them. Smitty said that sometimes people are ungrateful because they “miss” the miracles. Miracles happen daily….almost minute-by-minute. We get so wrapped up in living our lives that we can miss the miracles. The thing is that miracles happen so fast that we have to develop the skills to acknowledge them.
If you don’t see the miracles you aren’t grateful. So a lot of the work we do to become grateful, is to notice the miracles and note them on our lists, in our journals and in our “thank you” prayers.
Then Smitty said that I should “fill my bucket up with miracles” and store them up for a rainy day. He believed that we can store gratitude like the charge in a battery, and take it out and open it up in our lives, to get us through the tough times.
He said that he was so grateful for his wife that he survived Viet Nam. He made it a life-long practice to appreciate small unique things in other people to be grateful for. It’s hard to resent someone, or be angry at someone, if you are grateful for them. Gratitude is after all, the “flip-side” of love.
Smitty has long ago passed on. The course in gratitude he gave me has lived on in my heart for decades. I am so grateful to have had him in my life.