Gratitude is derived from the Latin word Gratus, meaning, feeling thankful. While Thanksgiving hallmarks the celebration of gratitude, acknowledging the deep feeling of appreciation has existed since the dawn of mankind. Most ancient cultures invented their own ways of expressing gratitude. Their deep connection with nature and natural resources, inspired reverence. Practices like making offerings to the Gods, saying grace or chanting mantras before a meal indicated gratefulness for food and shelter, which was multiplied when resources were shared with members of tribes.
I often get asked how gratefulness can help us at times when we bear severe financial losses, lose a loved one, someone hurts us or we feel cheated? It is human to feel pain and lose trust. Even in the darkest moments, we can find something that sparks joy, if we are willing to look. When gratitude becomes a part of our psyche, we learn to forgive, embrace the positive aspects of our lives and if possible, sever ties with the negative influences that drag us down. With a brighter outlook and a sprinkle of gratitude, we can turn our lives around. Gratitude can be contagious! Small acts of kindness have inspired us to 'pay it forward.' My story below is heart-warming incident of trust, kindness and gratitude.
After completing my undergraduate degree in India, I moved to US for higher education. Young, full of promise and hope, I was looking forward to this new chapter in my life. Growing up in India, our parents took care of many of our needs, financially and emotionally. Leaving my parents was heart-wrenching but I was looking forward to turning a fresh page! Stepping into the many unknowns was both exhilarating and daunting!
It was the holiday season. December 13, 1998 was when I started my long journey from my hometown of Hyderabad (India) to fly into Mumbai (India), with onward international journey to Nashville. A transit stop at Frankfurt and Washington, D.C. seemed like fun! After my initial dose of excitement, some worry set in. My international flight from Frankfurt to Washington D.C. had gotten delayed, due to bad weather conditions in Washington, D.C. The delay would have a cascading effect on the rest of my journey. I would now miss my subsequent flight within the US.
Desperate to inform my sister about this change so she wouldn’t be waiting for me at the Nashville airport, worry-stricken not to find me on that flight, I tried exploring my international phone call options!! Remember this was the era when internet was emerging and cell phones were scarce! I could have used a public phone, but the change in flight plans had already muddled my head, plus, I did not have local currency to make that call!
A young Indian couple sitting next to me at Frankfurt airport sensed the uneasiness on my face and started a casual conversation. They were taking the same flight as me. Sympathizing with my situation, they lent me their foreign exchange money for making an international call. Seven hours later, our flight finally took off. Once we arrived at Dulles International airport in Washington D.C., it was late in the evening and as expected, I had missed my onward flight to Nashville. The airline had put me on another flight which was departing the next morning. This meant spending a cold night alone at the quiet Dulles airport, a rather chilling thought for a 'fresh off the boat' and naive 22 year old with no connection to the outside world!
Although chaos seemed to have taken over my arrival into the US, this young couple had not left my side! They were concerned and felt uncomfortable that I would have to spend the whole night at the airport or navigate to a hotel, alone. They were so generous that they offered to drive me to their home in Northern Baltimore and then drive me back the next morning to Dulles International airport, so I could get on my connecting flight to Nashville.
By this time, anxiety, jetlag and fatigue had started taking a toll on me. I felt sick. With no clue as to how far Baltimore was from the Dulles airport, I agreed to go with them. We reached Baltimore quite late in the night. Nauseous, as soon as I got to their home, I threw up several times. The young woman cleaned up after me, was awake into early hours of dawn reassuring me that I would settle in well in my University and would love my student life! As morning set in, jet lagged and tired, they drove me back to Dulles International airport (a 3 hr drive). Once I was confirmed on my scheduled flight to Nashville, they bid me farewell.
Ever since then, I have tried to reach them via phone (the number had changed) and even in person, as I tried to recollect the neighborhood they might have lived in when I moved to Baltimore in 2003. Twenty one years later, my memory now fails me. I vaguely remember their faces but not their names. However, I will never forget their genuine act of kindness and the altruism they showed towards me, a total stranger. I am indebted, forever. As Maya Angelou says. "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
As I was parting ways with them, I asked how I could repay their kindness. They simply said “by paying it forward”. They had told me they both grew up in an ashram in Southern India. The husband was an orphan and had been raised by the yogis of the ashram. They had both been taught to lead life with compassion (Karuna) and be of service (Seva) to others. They had embodied the spirit of living a yogic life, using the tools of Karma Yoga (Yoga of action) and passing goodwill to the people around them.
I learnt the true meaning of gratitude that day and over the years, being compassionate, thankful and thoughtful has become an essential part of who I am. Once settled, I tried helping as many new students at my university on their arrival at the campus, as I could. Giving back certainly feels great!
Gratitude can be felt but also be cultivated. Maintaining a gratitude journal, acknowledging others for their help, mindfulness meditation and back-door strategies like mental subtraction have been advocated to boost happiness.
In the same spirit, I would like to thank all of you for taking the time to read my blogs and listen to my stories:). Its been a year since I started blogging and have thoroughly enjoyed writing! I truly appreciate your comments, interactions and discussions.
Take care my friends! ~Happy Holidays~
Pictures below are the first fews! My graduation from University in KY and having my parents visit me from India, as I settled into my first job! Memories that will last a lifetime!
Author : Deepti Gupta
All of us have a story to tell. Turning ideas into words and life's experiences into stories is empowering and fulfilling.