With a Spirit of Gratitude

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

John F. Kennedy

45 degrees..that’s what the thermometer indicated on my dashboard. The rain was steady as I noticed a row of flags blowing directly north, carrying the rain across streets, into the sides of cars, and under anything attempting to provide cover. This day before Thanksgiving, I was hurtling toward an 8:15am commitment, running a few minutes behind, and feeling the melancholy of the cold, gray day.

Exiting I465 and heading west on Washington Street, my Indianapolis home seemed familiar and comfortable from inside my warm, dry car as the Beatles took me to another time with “Julia.” Barreling along, I noticed a woman standing on the median at an intersection as I came to a stop at the light. I didn’t look at her, though I could tell she was standing in the rain with a light jacket, no umbrella, and some kind of sign; likely stating what those signs always state: “My family is hungry.” “Homeless.” “Lost my job.” “Help.”

The light changed and I sped away toward my appointment.

But I wasn’t going to just any appointment. I was headed toward Mass. The hazy image of the woman in the rain stayed with me. One block. Two blocks. Three blocks. The Beatles disappeared as a new set of words entered my mind: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

I turned around.

Returning to where the woman stood, I stopped and lowered my window. I looked at her intently, peering into her eyes, searching. Was it hopelessness? Was it fear? Was it ambivalence? Was it drug addiction? What exactly was I looking for? The moment felt like an eternity though it was probably less than 15 seconds. She looked at me and waited.

I handed her a $20 bill but I had no words for her. As I started to drive off, she thanked me, wished me a happy thanksgiving, and told me that she was to be evicted at 11am this very day. All I could muster was eye contact and what I hope was the face of compassion.

Driving on, I saw her in my mirror, now running across the street. My mind raced, was I just duped? Was her act just part of some kind of scam? The cynic inside crafted numerous conspiracy theories until I caught sight of the steeple of Our Lady of Lourdes a few blocks ahead and I realized: it doesn’t matter. Whatever reason that women was there was a desperate one. Whether she was lying or was sincere didn’t matter; in that moment, one human helped another with no expectation of anything in return. I wasn’t filled with selfish sensations of my own goodness or generosity – just the conviction of one who doesn’t do enough. One who can never do enough.

Mine isn’t a call to unite bleeding hearts or guilt any who pass a beggar on the street. Though, a bit of that might not be a bad thing. No, my call is to remember that the gifts we have are many, that they are gifts, and that we are called to use them well. As St. Francis de Sales said, “Be who you are and be that well. So that you might bring honor to the Master Craftsman whose handiwork you are.”

You are reading this in November 2020 and you are breathing. That would be enough. You are walking through today knowing that you have shelter and enough to eat. That would be enough. You are loved and given the opportunity to love. And that would be enough. Count beyond and you’ll be reminded that you are rich in so very many ways.

This Thanksgiving, feel the full weight of your gifts and the gratitude that comes with knowing they are enough. Then, share all that you are with the completeness of one who believes that your gifts will multiply in the sharing.

Happy Thanksgiving

Showing 5 comments
  • Jennifer Gleckman

    Thank you Phil. Filled my heart completely today. I am grateful for your gift of writing and of sharing and your ability to use words to inspire and empower others to take positive actions in their lives. Thank you.

  • Becky Lomax

    Thank you Phil for reminding us how incredibly lucky we all are. A small deed can mean so much to someone who is hurting. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

  • Julia Ertel

    Beautifully crafted, Phil! I do hope that you are planning a compilation of your 2020 stories, personal thoughts and adventures.
    Thank you as always.
    ~Happy Thanksgiving to you and Family~

  • Trish Berry

    How many times I have passed this same situation, wanted to stop but didn’t! Thank you for stopping and reminding me that I have missed many opportunities to serve another. Whatever the need was, who am I to judge? I’ll do better the next time.

  • Dad

    Nic Piece Phillip, you make this world a better place.

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