Gratitude is a theme which occurs fairly frequently in the blogs that I follow. I have read about keeping gratitude journals, and other gratitude practices, which help people to get in touch with the good in their lives.
For myself, gratitude has not been a strong theme or focal point. I tend to concentrate on keeping myself afloat and accepting the good and the bad as a part of life. I am inclined to be wary of exercises where you list things you should be grateful for, because I find “should” a poor motivation for any endeavour.
A couple of days ago I offered to accompany a neighbour to the emergency room, as he had fallen and broken his wrist. We arrived at the hospital at 8.30 am. As it was a busy morning we were unable to see the Emergency doctor until around lunchtime. We learned that it was a bad break, and he needed to be assessed by an orthopaedic surgeon. Unfortunately there were a number of bad car accidents, and the surgical staff were all tied up in theatre most of the day.
It was late afternoon when the surgical registrar arrived. He looked fresh and alert, despite a day in theatre. He apologised for the delay, saying he had been helping a patient with horrific injuries from a terrible road accident. Despite this, he was thoughtful, professional, attentive, competent… he was everything we had been wishing for in 8 hours of waiting. He gave my friend options and was respectful of his choices; he picked up on small details that were concerning me. I mouthed a relieved “thank you” to him when nobody was looking.
What happened next surprised me, as in saying thank you, I was flooded by a feeling of gratitude to this man who had suddenly appeared and met our needs. I was grateful that he had seen and understood, and made sure that everything was attended to. I was grateful for his skill, but also his kindness and thoughtfulness. When the consultation was over, I didn’t want him to go.
The gratitude I felt towards the doctor bore no relation to the list of good things that I would have written in a gratitude journal. It wasn’t theoretical, it was a feeling that welled up from a deep place. It came from a place that is vulnerable and needs help, uncertain and looking for reassurance, lonely and looking for a companion. It came from the place that love comes from. To feel gratitude, I needed to also feel my vulnerability and my need for help and connection.
My experience at the hospital has given me a new insight into gratitude. I know now that there is a type of kindness that can’t be repaid, and doesn’t need to be. Its kindness that sees a need and meets it with compassion, without the expectation of any return or reward. The best way to receive this type of kindness is to surrender to it, and accept it thankfully.
As we parted the surgeon gave me a nod. The nod was saying thank you for coming and being with your neighbour and helping us to help him. In that moment I saw a glimmer of another dimension to gratitude, in which we were a team, relying on each other to do our part. My neighbour is grateful to me for my help, and I appreciated his patience under trying circumstances. We were both grateful to the doctor for this kindness and competence. On this difficult day of coping with an accidental injury gratitude was not a one way street or an unequal equation. We were all grateful for, and to, each other, and that was lovely.