Monday, December 06, 2010

Planting Flowers

When I was a young-ish teen I read a story that's stuck with me.  It's an allegory about a young man named Malcolm who, on his way to work one day, comes across a random stranger who irritates him.  Maybe the stranger cuts him off in traffic, maybe he unknowingly insults Malcolm--I don't exactly remember--but in memory of the offense Malcolm picks up a small rock and puts it in his pocket so that he won't forget what was done to him.

Throughout the day Malcolm rubs his rock, reliving the rudeness.  So begins a habit and from time to time in the coming week Malcolm repeats his odd ritual, picking up rocks any time someone does something he doesn't like.  Sometimes the offense is a little thing, sometimes it's a bigger insult, but soon Malcolm's rock collection is thriving so well that he begins carrying a backpack for all his rocks.  Each day there are more rocks and, as stories often go, things progress until finally we find Malcolm stuck in his home with all his precious rocks, living as a virtual prisoner with all that sedimentary baggage.

Rumor of the collection grows so that eventually a local school plans a field trip to Malcolm's house to see the famous rocks but when the teacher and students show up they quickly realize that Malcolm's rocks--far from being valuable minerals and beautiful crystals--are just a bunch of dirty stones and pebbles.  In confusion they ask about the rocks' histories and once Malcolm explains his collecting habits the teacher looks around and says: 

"Well can we see your other collection?"

Now Malcolm is confused.  "What other collection?" He says.

"You know . . . the collection you have that represents the good things that people have done for you. If you've picked up these rocks for every insult you've had surely you've got another collection for the good things people did for you?"

Of course Malcolm has no such collection and the conversation brings on an epiphany.  It changes him in true Ebenezer Scrooge fashion so that he cleans up his house, gets rid of his rocks and decides to live his life differently. It isn't long after that that people begin to notice how beautiful Malcolm's garden is and, one day, while a neighbor stops to reflect on the beautiful flowers she sees Malcolm nearby.

"Your garden is so beautiful," she says, "Every time I see your home and your flowers it makes me happy."

Shortly after that that she notices Malcolm once again out in his garden, planting yet another flower in token of the kind words she'd given him.

Now I know that the story isn't as famous as Aesop's fables or as deep as the Biblical parables but it made an impression on me that has re-emerged during this season of gratitude and giving.  We talk about Thanksgiving and being thankful but I've found there is a huge difference between being grateful and giving thanks. How often do we have good things happen in our lives--whether great or small--and we think about how we are grateful but that is as far as it goes?  We may even toss off a casual "thanks" but that's not the same thing as actually giving thanks.

Gratitude is possibly the most important character trait we can cultivate because it's bound to so many other positive attributes.  If we are grateful then we are humble because we acknowledge what others have done for us and how we benefit from others' generosity.  We recognize how we don't have it all and are dependent on other people, on the world we live in and on God. If we are grateful we are content with what we have and are not greedy for more, especially at the expense of others.  Gratitude keeps us from coveting what others have which keeps us more honest, frugal and kind.  It gives us the inclination to take care of what we have and share it with others to spread the goodness we've received.

But if all we ever do is feel grateful then we're only half there because, frankly, none of us say "thank you" enough.  We're so quick to call a company that's given bad service but how often do we take the same effort to report a job well done? How quick am I to point out when one of my children slips up versus when they demonstrate making an extra effort? Misfortune tends to bring out the "why me?" but good fortune tends to make us pat ourselves on the back as if we've earned it.

Why is it that when bad things happen it seems that the cameras are always rolling but often when the good things come around it's when no one is looking but those are the times when it's especially important to pause and give back a thank you. Maybe we stop and say a sincere "thank you" to the person responsible, maybe we write it down in a journal to remember, maybe we say a quick prayer or put on a smile--giving thanks comes in many forms--but the point is to do something. The world could use as many flowers as it can get.


Diane said...

Years ago I volunteered under a Sunday School superintendent who was a master at sending sincere, detailed thank you notes to her staff. I've kept those letters, and still go back to them on those days I feel as if I'm the most incompetent, useless person on the planet.

Sincere thanks have an impact well beyond the effort it takes us to make them.

Raejean said...

Thanks for sharing that story, I'd never heard it before. You put into words something I'd been thinking about. My children often whine and complain, but at the end of the day they are grateful for their blessings. I often feel like I've fallen short in teaching the gratitude. I like they perspective of they are half way there, now I just need to emphasize the rest of the lesson and encourage them to show gratitude by serving others!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for an excellent, though-provoking post. Here's a flower!

Suzi Dow said...

Michele - It has been a rough few months. Thank you for reminding me there are flowers that grow among those rocks.

Mirien said...

Great post, Michelle. I'd never heard that story before. It reminds me of a quote I recently heard Thomas S. Monson use: "Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it."

Shannon said...

I linked to this post on my blog today. IF you want me to I will remove the link. Thanks for a great post and hope you have a good day. Stay warm!

Holly at Tropic of Mom said...

Oh, this is so beautiful. Thank you, friend.

Lotus (Sarcastic Mom) said...

I love this so much.

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

This is a lovely reminder. Thanks.

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