Uta has realized that it is gratitude which is really significant, something I had not previously considered and I now understand and accept that this is a major subject, much deeper than the simple word suggests.
The meaning of a word like ‘gratitude’ can differ from person to person and allowance should be made for this. The same applies to all my explorations and contemplations in this book. I am not claiming to possess any special or specific knowledge or abilities. My thoughts developed while walking and while writing this diary and they are important to me. I would be pleased if they could also have some resonance for the reader.
The following represents my understanding of the word ‘gratitude’:
Gratitude consists of distinctive elements
Expressing gratitude means being able to recognise what is worth appreciating. If we are unable to see the positive, even if not perfect in all respects, we cannot be appreciative and this is surely how pessimistic people experience life. They focus on what is negative, they complain, reject, justify, blame others and feel sorry for themselves. These people do not see any reason for gratitude, they ignore and walk past that which is beneficial. Those who have a positive disposition are more open-minded and tolerant in life and find it easier to be thankful. This means that the greater our sense of awareness is developed, the more genuinely we can give thanks.
It takes courage and conviction to express gratitude. If we do see reasons for being grateful we should have the urge and courage to express this to our fellow human beings, to society, to God. We must be able to stand back for a moment, stay out of our own limelight for the sake of the other and be grateful. We should also be thankful for minor favours and not reserve our gratitude purely for great deeds. If we are too critical, we might miss the point and not find any reason to be grateful.
Some people are generous with their gratitude, others find it hard to express their thanks. And then there are those who have the habit of perpetually proposing alternatives to whatever is offered, thereby stonewalling any goodwill.
This sounds logical; but any egoistic manners might not allow us to give thanks without qualification and without judgment. We should be prepared to appreciate the other for the good they have done, metaphorically speaking, to raise them onto a pedestal.
It is not sufficient to assume that the other knows that we are thankful; it is necessary to express this without fuss and by doing so we confirm that we appreciate their input and/or actions.
Acknowledgment and expressing gratitude should come from the heart and not from the mind – where alternative motives might get attached to the process. If there is goodwill and effort involved, there is a reason to be grateful. Even if we would have wanted a different outcome. We can be tolerant and thankful, it is our choice.
Perhaps we see accepting a gift as a weakness or even consider it to be an annoyance, something for which we now ‘have to be grateful for’ and feel obliged to reciprocate. Perhaps we do not want to be in anyone’s debt, maybe we are too proud. Alternatively, we might consider ourselves to be undeserving and not worth the attention.
Gratitude should not be a matter of briefly offering thanks and in the next breath wondering how we can reciprocate. By doing this we only balance the credit and debit columns in our ledger ‒ this is not a generous and honest way of being thankful.
Giving and receiving is an important part of life. It teaches us humility and the ritual of giving and expressing gratitude is a healthy form of communication and the more genuinely we can do this, the more rewarding the experience. The more honest we are able to express gratitude, the more the giver is rewarded.
Gratitude is vital for a healthy partnership and family; it is essential for a well-functioning community and crucial if we are to find our balance and inner peace when we assess our own role in life – or when we converse with our inner God.
Gratitude is obviously not purely reserved for material gifts, it applies equally to the many ways we are aided by others or by circumstances in life. People who regularly feel short-changed will end up living a short-changed life.
I remember an episode from my childhood. We were brought up to be polite and considerate of others in our family and our parents might have taken these notions a little too seriously.
One day my grandmother taught me something that I have never forgotten: She gave me an apple, a rarity in those days after the war, and I responded with petty excuses why I could not take this from her – that I was not worthy of it or something similar. She then very simply replied to my prudish words that she was old enough to know if she wanted to give me something and that I should accept this without hesitation, just with thanks.
Perhaps confusion is eliminated if we accept that others are ‘honest, willing and old enough’ to offer whatever it is they present.
Thank you and Buen Camino
Uta’s and my return by train to Madrid took us from Santiago de Compostela to Pontevedra, a wonderful historic city, like so many others in Spain.
The next day we continued to Salamanca, one of the first cities in Europe founding a university.
We then travelled to Avila with its meticulously preserved medieval walls and watchtowers still encircling the large historic center.
The following day we reached Madrid and visited Plaza Mayor and the old part of this huge city, before embarking on the midnight flight to Cape Town.