The soul of gratitude lives in the deepest valley. It’s born within the clutter of our changing circumstances. Even the muck of imperfect lives can’t stop the lotus of gratitude from inspiring us to believe in brighter days. Inspiration in many forms: the gift of mentorship; the blessing of encouragement; the reassurance from a stranger; and even the simple words thank you.
My own valleys have taught me much about the origin and legacy of gratitude. When I was five, I was dropped off at a boarding school by my mother; she was too distraught to say goodbye. It was the first time I remember experiencing despair, but the seeds of gratitude were present even then.
Life at the boarding school for the next decade was often unreasonable and abusive. It was at a time when some adults believed that sparing the rod spoiled the child. They were skilled and motivated to beat us into becoming model citizens. Some of these adults would be serving prison sentences today, but they are all gone now like dust in the wind. One of my breakthroughs in life was learning how to forgive them unconditionally. It took me decades to feel compassion for their own despair. Today, it would be easy for me to hug all of them and to thank them for their good intentions and moments of kindness.
The boarding school succeeded in molding some of the boys and girls to become men and women of character and inner strength. A lot of my determination and resourcefulness was nurtured in that valley more than five decades ago. Sadly, too many of our friends grew up to become addicted to drugs, sex, and anything else that helped them to forget their pain.
I wrote a book about my experiences in 1995 titled Mud & Stars. Two men looked out from prison bars: one saw mud and the other saw stars. The book was an accounting of my time at the boarding school from ages five to 15. It took me a year to complete the book, and I acknowledge my therapist for suggesting writing as a tool for helping me access my deeper emotions. The amazing outcome is that I shifted from anger and grief to love and forgiveness as the book evolved. Experiencing this shift became one of the most meaningful experiences of my lifetime.
Mud & Stars is a metaphor; we all know what it means to see the glass as half empty or half full.
Life is always about choosing a perspective in the present moment.
That’s why most people who almost die unexpectedly shift their view about what’s important. Their sense of gratitude becomes central to their experience irrespective of their circumstances.
You won’t find Mud & Stars on a bookshelf because I wrote it mostly for me and loved ones. I ended up distributing about 1,000 copies over the past 17 years. I also mailed the book to the superintendent at the boarding school and all the members of the board of trustees. It caused quite a stir at the time since the school was celebrating its 100-year anniversary.
The superintendent, who was my football coach when I was a student, called me a few days after the book arrived. My heart was sprinting as he told me that my book was an embarrassment for the school. He also confessed that some of the abuse still persisted. What happened next shocked me to tears. He asked me if he could buy 200 copies so he could distribute Mud & Stars to every teacher and adult on the staff. Imagine the sense of validation I felt in hearing these unexpected words. The school closed several years ago, but I believe my book touched some decent people in meaningful ways. What more can any of us ask for from anything we create?
I reconsidered mud and stars at the end of the book, and here is what I wrote:
Two men looked out from prison bars; one saw mud and the other saw stars. The one who saw stars told the other man about the light in the sky. They talked openly about mud, stars, fears, and hopes. When the two men were released they purchased the field of mud and covered it with top soil. They became the most successful farmers in the county. They also taught astronomy at the local college, married wonderful mates and lived happily ever after.
This expanded view represents self-acceptance. It also reminds us that gratitude is contagious and it can be taught to others.
Experiencing muck doesn’t mean it has to stick to our souls.
It simply means we have walked through deeper valleys like almost every one else. The stars inspire us to see something greater and more expansive.
Lifted by compassion, the small acts of gratitude combine to spring upward from the valley floor like a mighty volcano. The irresistible flow of goodwill covers the land of our lives with the conviction that our blessings are greater than our trials. They always are even when we forget. And with your inevitable final breath of life, do your best to remember to say thank you.
Randy owns Triple 3 Marketing. He’s a long term advocate for positive change, having owned community magazines since 1999. Randy sold Positive Change Media in April 2009 and took a year off before launching Triple 3 Marketing. In addition to helping business owners, he also provides private coaching. Randy has a masters degree in communication arts from the University of Wisconsin at Madison where he studied persuasion and attitude change. Contact Randy at firstname.lastname@example.org.