Well, that doesn’t sound so inviting, does it? Let me explain, because I’m certain that each of you has some past events that fall into this category. Just because you’ve never thought about it like this doesn’t mean you won’t in the future.
There have been a few times in my life when someone did something for me that was so kind that it has fallen into a special place in my memory where I ‘use’ it again and again. As a reminder, for my research for a master’s program in psychology, I studied gratitude. Before that, I valued gratitude highly; after my research and learning of its incredibly positive effect on human beings, my respect for it only increased.
So, back to ‘reusing’ old gratitude. Multiple times each day, we say or think, “thank you,” whether it’s because someone passed us the sugar, opened the door, or offered us a cup of coffee. A friend, Ingrid, just told me about her recent visit to Tahiti, where a common greeting is ‘moruru,’ whose meaning is ‘gratitude.’ That is, instead of saying, ‘how are you,’ people say, ‘what are you grateful for?’ How lovely is that?!
Again, back to reused gratitude, or recycled, which might be better, more in style. There are two particular occasions that I recall with this special brand of gratitude. The first occurred when I was sixteen or seventeen years old, in the 60’s, with my new driver’s license. I was driving my mother’s car, standard transmission, of course, up a local hill on Federal Street. It was winter and the road was snowy and slippery. I was halfway up and I couldn’t change gears, so the car was stopped. I do not remember the actual details of what happened, but I was distressed , crying, and a man offered to help. Somehow, I must have secured the emergency brake and let him get into the driver’s seat, so he could drive it to the top of the hill. I was incredibly grateful to him for helping me. I have no idea who he was, but his kindness is indelibly etched into my brain and remains as my primary example of recycled gratitude. If gratitude offers any benefit to the recipient, this man, whoever he is, must be surrounded with blessings.
Another example occurred about five years ago, during recovery after heart surgery, a triple bypass. I had been hospitalized for a week following my heart attack and for another week following surgery, during which time I had not been allowed out of bed. Bathing had been limited to a sponge bath and I wanted a real shower so badly! Of course, my chest had been split open and was then filled with tubes and wires, helping my incision to heal and measuring my changing heart beats. Finally, the tubes and wires were removed and I was told that a nurse would help me bathe. Although I wanted that so much, I couldn’t imagine how it could actually happen, that water could flow freely over this giant chest wound, so recently split wide open. Additionally, my motion had been severely limited; I was not exactly walking around freely.
The day for my bath arrived. The nurse helped me walk the short distance to the shower room, navigating my IV wires beside me. She assisted me in sitting down on a plastic bench, somehow maintaining my anatomical privacy, then started the spray of water at just the right temperature. I had been wanting this so much, but now I was afraid to have that spray touch my enormous incision. The nurse — I’m sorry that I don’t remember her name — described her actions as she carefully performed each step, somehow sitting beside me without getting herself soaked. She used many wash clothes, never repeating use of any one, using such care with such gentleness, and, surprisingly, always keeping me under the gentle spray, so that I was consistently warmed, never chilly.
The process continued until my hair was washed, along with every part of my body, me doing what I was able, though without lifting my arms, which could have strained my heart. She was so gentle, but thorough. Then, the water was off and the process of gently drying my body began. By the time I was back in my bed, I was exhausted, but had never felt so clean and cared for. Perhaps, for that nurse, this was simply another day, another patient, another task to be performed. For me, five years later, every time I take a shower and see that scar, I relive her kindness, her gentleness to my injured body, her gift of caring.
Recycled gratitude — it is a gift to me every time I recall the actions of that man who helped an inexperienced teenage driver on Federal Street in Beverly or that nurse at Mass General, just doing her job, assisting a patient after open heart surgery. What are your own examples of recycled gratitude?
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