We call it the “Fall with Jesus,” the night my husband, hanging an 8-foot-tall crucifix for a friend, fell 14 feet to the ground, landing with shattered ribs, a head injury, and Jesus in his arms.
When I got to his side, 20 hours later, he was already a legend in the hospital. Each nurse, aide and receptionist knew his name and smiled as they talked to me about him. It took a while, as my brain was in a state of shock, to understand that what was happening was not normal. It was not about good patient care or an interesting injury. It was gratitude at work.
Everyone knew who Paul was because he took the time to thank every single person for their work, even the team that rolled him from the bed to the surgery gurney, which caused intense pain. He shook hands, learned names, looked them in the eye and said, “Thank you.” Because of this, and the interesting injury, a doctor, in Alaska for a week of fishing, came off the river to perform the surgery. Paul shook his hand, wincing from the pain, and the doctor said, “You don’t have to do that,” which got a guffaw.
As he healed, Paul asked the question, as all people who have a near-death experience do, “Why am I still here?” Pastors and friends, family and custodians all had different answers, but it was the nurse, who normally worked the desk, but on this day asked to be assigned to the floor so she could work with Paul, who said, “I think one reason you are still here is for me. This is a hard job, and I’d lost my passion for it. Then I heard about you, and what you were doing for people, and you have given me hope.” Every person in the room, including her, cried.
He had given her back a small part of her, her spark, her energy for an often-thankless job, because of his gratitude. Because he simply said, “Thank you.” Two words with the power to make magic happen. Two words, written on the front of cheap cards and shopping bags and tossed to the wind with careless abandon on most days, but written on our hearts other days, changed how she saw the world.
Now, I don’t want you to fall with Jesus, and I hope you don’t toss the words to the wind with reckless abandon, but I do hope that this season, well, always actually, you will be the person who says thank you and means it — the person who impacts others with those two simple words, spoken or unspoken, straight from the heart.
I’ve been thinking lately how we can express gratitude and I’ve boiled it all down to five little ways.
LISTEN. Put down the phone, put your hand over your mouth if you must, and listen, leaning forward on your hand, with eyes that show you care. Let them tell you their story, show you their thoughts, and revel in your attention. When they are done, say, “Thank you for telling me that.” This is perhaps the greatest thank you that you can give to another, to let them be the single most important person in your world, if only for a moment.
NOTICE. If you are like me, the season has been filled with errands, to-do lists and one hurried purchase after another. These transactions are often thoughtless, marking something off the list while hurrying to the next. Several years ago, during a team-building event, a clerk said, “Unless something goes wrong, no one even notices me. It’s like I don’t exist.” Wow. Clerks are part of our world and we don’t even take the time to look them in the eye and say, “Thank you”? Her words hit my heart, so now I take the 2.3 seconds to show gratitude to everyone who often goes unnoticed. I look them in the eye and say thank you. I don’t know for sure that it’s made a difference in their world, but it sure has in mine.
HONOR. When you visit someone’s home, when you step into their world, honor what is important to them. Pet their dog with loving respect. Take a knee and play with their child, if only long enough for your knee to start hurting. Speak kindly to their spouse, their other visitors, honor those that are important to them. It’s also a way to honor them, and show gratitude for being part of their world. It’s also okay to do the dishes or the laundry, as a way of saying “Thanks” as long as you do it with honor and joy, not judgment and eye rolls.
GIFT. My mother-in-law once said, while waiting for a guest to arrive, “I hope to heaven that she does not bring me more towels.” It seems that this guest brought towels, as a thank you gift, every time she visited, and she visited a lot. There was a whole shelf of mismatched, unused towels in the hall closet, and the dread that goes with saying thank you for a gift she was not thankful for receiving. So, before you give a gift, as a way of saying thanks, ask yourself if the gift is for you or for them. Is it something easy to purchase — another bottle of cheap wine, a towel in a color that catches your eye, or is it a gift they would like to have? Think about tickets to an event they want to experience or, maybe, a bottle of wine they would never buy for themselves. When you express gratitude with a gift, the gift should match the joy they give you. Think about them for a moment, then go out of your way, if you must, to get the gift that shows how grateful you are for them.
WRITE. Twice last summer I was gifted with penmanship, words from the heart, misspellings, and teardrops, as, get this, young men, took the time to write what was in their hearts to thank me for helping them grow. Young men are perhaps the last people I expected to put pen to paper in this modern world. So each time, I held the words to my chest and felt the joy of knowing my work, my love for them, was well used. It does not have to be profound, on a thank you card, or written in ink, it just begs to be written.
When I was discovering that I could write, that others would read my words, I wrote a book that approximately 10 people purchased, a sobering reality. The next book quickly sold a thousand copies and a family member told me, “Now, that makes you a real author.” That kind of stung, but it was kind of true. Without a reader, I can’t be an author.
So, I want to tell you thank you for reading these words. Thank you for supporting this magazine. When you take the time to notice the work we’ve done, to stop us in a coffee shop and say that you loved what we have created for you, well, it makes our journalistic hearts sing. As I shape this column around the gift of gratitude, without you and your gift of time, we could not