Back in 1983, I was riding a motorbike on a quiet residential street when a car sped in from a side road and T-boned me. Two cousins not yet in their teens, riding pillion were thrown off to one side, largely unhurt. However, I suffered a couple of fractured ribs, a broken left clavicle (collar bone) and the right shoulder blade. For almost six weeks that August in Delhi’s sweltering, muggy heat I could only lie flat on my back. My wife would frequently gently lift one side of my back to sponge away the sweat and apply talcum powder, before doing the same on the other side. My mother would assist her, while holding my hand in an effort to share and lessen my pain. My daughter (then around 3 years old) would tiptoe in to hand me “get well” cards she sketched and offer “magic” kisses to take away my pain. It worked.
I have lived through several other major health related issues before and after this incident. Through all travails, it was family, friends, and on a few occasions even complete strangers who helped to lessen the burden and carry one through troubled times. I recall friends in Bahrain who looked after our kids while I was hospitalized, family and friends in India and here in Canada who went over and beyond to help us. It is amazing how people come into our lives when least expected to support, nourish and enrich us in different ways.
How do I thank all these wonderful souls around me? Or, do I express gratitude? I am useless with semantics and English grammar and frequently have to resort to the Dictionary and a Thesaurus to try and communicate effectively. Is “thanks” a noun and “gratitude” a verb or an adjective?
Intuitively, saying “Thank you”, “Thanks” or an informal British “Ta” is now almost a reflexive action on my part. I must shamefully and guiltily admit that while sincere, my cursorily mumbling “Thanks” to a person holding open a door, or to a server who brings food and drink to the table is now merely a polite gesture; an automatic reaction to another’s action. I believe the litmus test for appreciation is that an act of thankfulness typically will not occur if one is sitting alone; it needs a counterparty.
Gratitude, on the other hand is a heartfelt and mindful – almost meditative, deliberate and reflective response arising from the heart. Gratitude helps us to rise beyond our own self. I find myself in agreement with self-help author Melody Beattie’s quote that “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
I have earlier offered my views on the wonderful celebration of Thanksgiving (see my blog links below):
Each of us expresses gratitude in our own way every day for all that we continue to receive. I will forever remain grateful to my family and country of origin for the values instilled in me that make me who I am. Equally, I express heartfelt gratitude to this country that welcomed us and to which we now belong because it demonstrates through acceptance and respect for all that it is possible to remain caring and humanitarian in spite of growing malevolence and toxicity of intolerance beyond our borders.
This sense of gratitude extends to those beyond the circle of family, friends, community or country and resonates with my understanding of the 15th century Indian mystic poet Kabir’s reference to “kutumba” (universal family, I believe) in the following “doha” (lyrical verse):
“Saayeen itnaa dijiye, jaa mein kutumba samaaye
Mein bhi bhookha naa rahuun, sadhu (mendicant) naa bhukhaa jaaye”
[Give me enough O Master, to envelop my family/clan/society/universe
(so that) I may have no craving, nor the sadhu (more likely, guest) go unsatisfied.]
Louis Armstrong expresses gratitude through his appreciation of the wonderful world we live in where magic unfolds all around us, if only we choose to see: