I see people still living in public shelters weeks after the floods of hurricane Harvey have gone, and it saddens me that they have no place else to go. I honestly believe that I have a number of individuals upon whom I would be able to depend given similar circumstances. There is no doubt that my father-in-law or one of my two daughters would open their homes and their hearts to me if I found myself suddenly homeless. I’m fairly certain that my two brothers and their wives would take me in as well. I even suspect that I have multiple cousins and friends who would come to my aid, so it’s very difficult to imagine circumstances that might force me to depend on the kindness of strangers for a roof over my head. Sadly, there are people who find themselves with nowhere to turn for any number of reasons.
One of my daughters and I have discussed the names of people upon whom we have total confidence. These are the individuals whether through blood or friendship who always seem to be sharing both our good times and our bad. We almost assume that they will have our backs because they always have. Then there are those who surprise us with their attentiveness to our needs. When times get tough only the most loyal of the people that we know will stand beside us, but it is amazing how many of them there are. Over time we learn just who those individuals are, but for some reason we don’t always let them know how much we appreciate their efforts. Sometimes we even run out time to express our gratitude and that lack becomes a regret.
When I first began to teach my young daughters became latchkey kids. I worked far from home and rarely made it to the house before dinner time. My mother-in-law filled in that gap by traveling from her own job to be with the girls each afternoon. She sometimes cooked dinner for all of us while she waited for me to arrive. On days when one of the children was sick she became the sitter while I went to my job. I not only took this tremendous gift for granted, but I sometimes even immaturely got peeved when she did little house keeping tasks to help me. Somehow I interpreted her actions as being judgmental of my own abilities. It was silliness on my part, but even more problematic was the fact that I never really thanked her for the sacrifice of time that she made for so many years. I truly would like to kick myself for taking so long to become wise enough to realize what a great gift she was giving me and my family. To her credit she never appeared to feel any animosity due to my neglect of basic manners. She was a far better person than I was.
My mother used to come to my home bearing bags of groceries. It was her way of helping me with my budget and it was a lovely gesture, but I was sometimes silly in thinking that it was her way of telling me that she did not think that I was capable of taking care of myself. How ridiculous I was back then. I should have embraced her generosity and thanked her profusely for thinking of me with those loaves of french bread, cartons of eggs or fruits and vegetables. She had grown up during the Great Depression and food was an offering like manna from heaven. It was her way of showing how much she loved me and my family. Sadly I probably did more eye rolling than showing appreciation.
There is a tradition at KIPP Houston High School where I once worked that takes place when seniors are about to graduate. They have an evening when each student has the opportunity of remembering and appreciating the people who have helped him/her to reach that momentous occasion. It is a moving ceremony filled with laughter and happy tears as each person speaks of very personal thanksgiving for parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, teachers and fellow classmates. Everyone feels so good upon acknowledging and being acknowledged. Each time I witnessed this lovely practice I found myself thinking of so many people to whom I had never revealed my feelings.
The times that I actually did express my gratitude were wonderful. They helped me to feel as though I had closed the circle of giving. I once sent a long letter to a college professor whose influence had been profound. I never saw him again until many years later when he had become a white haired bent old man. He recognized me before I knew who he was. His face lit up with pure delight as he recalled the letter that I had sent him. He revealed that he had referred to it again and again over the years because it told him that he had indeed done something quite right in his career. I would never have guessed that my simple gesture of saying thank you would be so powerful, but after working for decades myself I now understand how meaningful such things truly are. I have a collection of notes that I cherish so much that I made certain they were safely upstairs during the recent floods, lest my home fill with water and I lose them.
At a recent funeral a classmate from high school urged us to take a bit of time each day to do something special for someone who has been faithful to us. Perhaps we might make a phone call or send a note or funny card. He challenged us to make each day a bit brighter for someone who has been kind. He warned that the opportunities to do so fade away far too soon, something of which I am already keenly aware. He noted that practically every single day of the year is national something or another, so we should look to see what is on the agenda each day. Maybe we might mark the day by taking ice cream to someone we know. Perhaps we can acknowledge that daughter or cousin. It’s actually quite easy to make every day of the year a way of thanking the faithful in our lives for all that they have done. We really do need to make a point of letting them know that we have noticed their kindnesses.
If there is one thing that I have learned the hard way it is to never again take anyone for granted. I have lost far too many of the people who did very special things for me thinking that I would one day have more time to shower them with praise. So many of them never got to hear my words, and that is such a shame. It’s really easy to take a few minutes to remember and appreciate. Like Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park we need to make it a daily ritual. Only then will those who would shelter us even after a storm know how much we truly love them.