“In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian
Along with all those people who labor daily in jobs that provide us with food, shelter, transportation, clothing, and amenities, I’m celebrating some other folks. Those sparkling spirits who are doing “labors of love.” They engage in everyday, voluntary acts for which they expect no benefit or reward. They give me an opportunity to see the best of humankind – elevate me, inspire me, and…stretch my gratitude.
John and I came back from a fishing trip to Nootka Island with a lot of salmon. COVID followed us home too. We are in lockdown for the last few days. I have been walking around my little driveway loop. That’s what I was doing when I thought I heard a car wending up our hill Saturday.
It’s unusual. Very few people come up our hill. It’s steep, curvy, narrow. Scary for most. We even leave a receptacle at the bottom for deliveries. In forty years, we have never had a trick-or-treater. Even I call my husband before I head up the hill to make sure he isn’t coming down.
It’s earlyish, about nine in the morning. I do, however, definitely hear the chug of a car. Eventually, I see it rounding the corner.
And then she comes into view. Margie. Smiling. Undaunted. An intrepid laborer of love. I don’t know how she found our place. She has confessed to me that she is GPS challenged. Even for those who know the address, it’s hard to find.
Margie has arranged in a tissue lined box a container of homemade chicken noodle soup, duck-shaped sugar cookies (in a box labelled “quackers”), and a small bouquet of flowers held in an empty chicken noodle can. The box of goodies is placed on the stone wall of our entrance. For the Darlings. COVID isolates. I’m astounded and confounded and delighted.
I celebrate Margie and others like her (my friends Karen and Jan also come immediately to mind). It isn’t just what they bring, but their “work,” their thinking about and bringing into fruition labors…of love.
Because I’m pretty much twiddling my thumbs as a COVID recluse, I have an opportunity to savor their labors of love - to be grateful, appreciative. The synchronicity of this strikes me. I have been pondering that very day, that very moment in fact, how gratitude uplifts us, me. Considering how I might become a more grateful person as I scanned my hill.
Margie jumped out of the car wide-eyed and enthusiastically gushed at the 360 vista from the top of the hill. It struck me right away that even though I do try to see the setting anew each morning, after forty years, I tend to take it, more than I want to, for granted. Instead, too often, I home in on weeds that need to be pulled, decks that need to be painted, windows that are due for cleaning.
It takes people like Margie to slap my senses around, so that I can see and appreciate what I have. And I know the huge impact that being grateful makes for living the good life.
I was previously reading (before Margie’s arrival and my little walk) a handbook and classification of character strengths and virtues written by Dr. Martin Seligman and Dr. Christopher Peterson, the chapter on gratitude. The chapter is in the section called “transcendence” which includes other virtues like awe, wonder, hope, and spirituality. They cluster together.
According to Seligman and Peterson, “gratitude can be thought of as a virtue that contributes to living well.” Gratitude has been a prized human disposition in Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu thought. Cicero held that “gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”
People who are good gratitude practitioners feel the emotion often for people, events, the world – a long list. People who are good gratitude practitioners are happier (duh) and even seem to be healthier and longer-lived. It’s a generous, warm outlook on life that the grateful have. It’s not something that narcissists have much of. It’s not something that people who see themselves as victims have much of. It’s not something that people who are preoccupied with materialism have much of. It’s something that busy people can neglect.
But there’s hope. For all of us. We can all get better at both being laborers of love AND being grateful recipients. Both are highly associated with the good life.
But look, when I am grateful, it just naturally flows that I WANT to be a laborer of love. After Margie’s visit, I looked at a packet sitting on my dining room table. It was full of scribblings and thoughts written by a homeless woman. She had left them with a friend and asked me to read them and give her my thoughts. I kept saying to myself, “I don’t have the energy.”
Magically, after Margie’s visit and a gratitude burst, I picked that packet right up and set to reading. Then, she, who has never been a thank you card writer, set to writing three thank you cards. And it was FUN. And I was happy. And that’s how the gratitude, labor of love stuff goes.
Seligman and Peterson, of course, want to help us with some gratitude interventions. Everyone at this point has heard about listing or journalling about blessings. I tried that for a while. It’s good to do. We are so very geared as human beings to noticing what sucks in our lives.
We must figure out ways to override that. We do take things, people, life for granted. It’s a normal process we must consciously shake-up. Somehow.
Right now, I’m just grateful to have laborers of love in my life to get me periodically rebooted.
How might practice labors of love and gratitude and journey together to the good life?
(By the way, if you have laborers of love you want to publicly appreciate and recognize to uplift us all, go to kindnesscountsncw.com, scroll down, and write a few words. And enjoy a lovely Labor Day, June)