The other day I read an Internet news blurb about the physical and emotional health benefits of a “gratitude attitude.” University of California Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons conducted a study showing that persons who kept a gratitude journal tended to take better care of themselves physically, felt better and had a more optimistic outlook than those who didn’t.
I am trying to cultivate my own gratitude attitude. And one of the things I’m most consistently grateful for in my life is the presence of people who make me want to be a better person.
Fellow Traveler and I have a friend, J, a frequent hostess of our women’s weekend get-togethers, who makes both of us want to be better people. She is a professional, a highly successful one, who has overcome various life adversities and has a real desire to share what she’s learned with others; to spread that positive, “overcoming” attitude around, particularly with the disadvantaged and discouraged. She is curious about the world, adventurous, and open to lifelong learning; right now she is nurturing an interest in the arts and creating some amazing artwork herself. She is also a gracious host who is always opening her home to neighbors and friends, and who genuinely cares about the wellbeing of her guests in between visits. Her home is filled with Oprah-esque motivational books and magazines, which may be easy to dismiss as feel-good pop psych, but…she really is on to something. When I’m around her for any length of time she makes me think that maybe I ought to shop around my writing or take up watercolors or pick up those golf clubs for real or mentor someone. She makes me less stingy and possessive regarding opening my own home to others. I am the better for knowing her.
Another person who makes me want to be a better person is…Fellow Traveler. No, I’m not going all gooey-mushy romantic here. I’ll just give you one example of why.
This past Sunday, after spending the morning nursing a sick Cody (he’s back to normal now, or as normal as he can be) and sending off an overnight guest who’d accompanied us to a pizza party/bonfire at J’s, we decided we really needed a couple of apple cider slushies. So we packed the dogs in the Jeep and headed to Freeland, to Leaman’s Green Applebarn, a new favorite fall destination. We got our slushies and spent some time just sitting in our vehicle, people-watching. We saw proud grandparents herding excited grandchildren; studiously bored dads who looked as if they were waiting for their annual white glove test; blingy women who seemed to have spent hours kitting themselves out for a trip to the orchard; embarrassed teenagers walking several steps behind the ‘rents and their younger siblings: “I don’t know who these people are.”
Then a car, a bumper-sticker-laden rustbucket with a mismatched door, pulled into the space behind us. A woman and boy maybe seven or eight years old emerged and headed to the orchard’s pumpkin patch. The woman had a camera, and was taking numerous pictures of the child, who tentatively moved from gourd to gourd as if to say, "Is it really okay for me to do this?"
“I bet that’s a single mom,” noted FT. “She probably doesn’t have the money to buy a pumpkin.”
I nodded. “That’s probably why she’s taking pictures of her boy next to the pumpkins – because they can’t take any of them home with them.”
After awhile the two disappeared into the orchard store and stayed there a long time. Maybe we were wrong, we considered. Maybe they’d gone on one of the orchard hayrides and exited the other side of the building. Maybe they weren’t as needy as they appeared.
Then they came out of the store. The mom had a very small bag in hand.
“Do you think she would be offended if I offered to buy her a pumpkin?” FT asked me. “When I see her I see myself back when I was a single mom. I had to work so hard during the week, and had so little money, and had so little time to spend with the boys on weekends. I wanted to make good memories for them, but sometimes it was just so hard.”
“You can ask her,” I said. “What’s the worst that can happen?”
I stayed behind with the convalescing Cody while FT got out of the Jeep and headed for the family. I saw some friendly chatter with the child, and then a discussion with the mom. And then – FT bought them a pumpkin.
“I was right,” said FT when she came back to our vehicle. “She is a single mom. She’d told her son they had money for a pumpkin or for donuts, but not for both. And she even had to borrow a camera from work to take those pictures. When I asked her if I could buy them a pumpkin, she said, ‘Why? Why would you do that for us when you don’t know us?’ I told her that watching her made my partner and I miss our kids, so we wanted to do something nice for you and your little boy.” The mom was amazed and grateful. The son was ecstatic.
That made me want to be a better person. "Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only."