“I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills …” This is the opening sentence of the book Out of Africa, and it’s probably one of my most cherished lines from any book.
From one sentence that says so little, my attention is caught and my imagination kicks in. I begin to wonder what will come next as my curiosity builds. Where is this story going? Will anyone else be touched by it?
Just like when I drop a pebble in a lake. I watch the ripples move out from the moment it hits the water, yet I will never see how far the ripples reach. I will never hear the stone hit the bottom as I watch it fall into the darkness. I will never know the touch of the wavelets on a fish that swims far away, as unaware of me as I am of it.
As I gaze intently at the motion my pebble caused, I realize that my imagination is once again pondering the infinite possibilities for these little waves. And so it is with gratefulness.
As I mentioned in the previous article, gratefulness overflows into becoming thankfulness. It unfolds in some most unexpected ways, rippling out, blessing all that is around me, and beyond. I have no way of knowing how or where or when the echo of perfection that is me, lost in the energy of oneness and belonging that is gratefulness, will be a gift to another as thankfulness.
This Hindu story paints this same picture of the true nature of gratefulness and how it comes alive as thankfulness, blessing all that is around me:
There is a boy, who wants a drum, but his mother can’t afford one, and sadly, she gives him a stick. Though he doesn’t know what to do with it, he begins to play with the stick. He then encounters an old woman trying to light her woodstove. The boy gives her the stick and she lights her stove, makes some bread, and in return she gives him half a loaf.
Walking on, the boy comes upon a potter’s wife whose child is crying from hunger. The boy gives her the bread. In gratitude, she gives him a pot. Though he doesn’t know what to do with it, he carries it along the river, where he sees a man and his wife quarreling because the wife broke their one pot that they used to wash clothes. The boy gives them the pot. In return, they give him a coat.
Since the boy isn’t cold, he carries the coat until he comes to a bridge, where a man is shivering. The man was attacked and robbed of everything but his horse. The boy gives him the coat. Humbled, the man gives him his horse.
Not knowing how to ride, the boy walks the horse into town, where he meets a wedding party with musicians. The bridegroom and his family are all sitting under a tree with long faces. According to custom, the bridegroom is supposed to enter the wedding procession on a horse, which hasn’t shown, so the boy gives him the horse.
Relieved, the bridegroom asks what he can do for the boy. Seeing the drummer surrounded by all his drums, the boy asks for the smallest drum, which the musician gladly gives him.
What I love about this story is how it unfolds in unexpected ways, showing what possibility lies in being present, by simply saying “yes” with an open mind and open heart. When I imagine myself as that little boy, I wonder what would have happened if I had stopped at any point along the journey with any of the everyday items humbly given. I would have cut short the unfoldment of my own goodness.
But if I follow the thread of the gifts given, I experience the great fullness of my life in the relationships all around me. I expand my capacity for living in that divine web that connects all life, giving whatever I have to someone in need and accepting what comes my way, even when I think it’s not what I really want.
So during this season of Thanksgiving, join me in being willing to linger in the open space between us – between what we give and what we receive – remembering that we are sharing this cosmic adventure with billions of people, all touched by that echo of perfection that is you.