Infinite Gratitude to All Things Past

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At LinkedIn this morning, David North asked this question:

In what ways do you honor people who have inspired you in your personal life or career? Do you honor such people in any lasting, dynamic ways? Does it matter whether they are living or passed? Is it a conscious decision to honor them, or a natural part of how you do things? Do others benefit?

Is this not a fabulous question to start the week!? By the time I got midway into a response, it was so long, I thought I would post it here and ask for the wise input of all of you – so please comment, and I will share those responses with David!

Pondering David’s question, two answers came to my mind. The first is simply that we consciously take the time to honor them – that we spend time each day considering what we are grateful for in our lives, and then take action to express that gratitude.

The second answer flows from the first, and it is the classic consultant answer – it depends.   🙂

The important thing is not so much what we do in each case, but that we do something to always show gratitude. True expressions of gratitude are not a quid pro quo – he sent us a check, so we must send a thank you. True gratitude is about living graciously.

Long-time readers here probably sense what is coming. But it comes back to the meditation that is so powerful in my own life:

Infinite gratitude for all things past.
Infinite service to all things present.
Infinite responsibility for all things future.*

When we move from gratitude to service and responsibility, we are not just grateful; we do something with that gratitude.

So many stories come to my mind. The first is the one I tell so often that we documented it at our website – the story of calling to thank the $10 and $15 donors when I was running the Diaper Bank. Those individuals never thought their gift was particularly inspiring, but of course, it was.

I am also thinking about a story I didn’t even know was something special until last week. When mortgage foreclosures hit the news earlier this year, every time I would see a family losing their home, I was overwhelmed with gratitude to my friend Richard, a sweet brilliant mortgage broker who put me into a solid fixed-rate mortgage several years ago. Finally, I picked up the phone and left a message on Richard’s voice mail, telling him how much that meant to me, four years after the deal had closed.

I saw Richard’s wife last week. She told me that Richard’s business has been decimated – no one buying homes, no one selling, no one lending. And that my message had meant so much to him – that it had come at a time when he needed it so badly.

Showing gratitude is not about the quid pro quo we so often see at our organizations. It is not about “streamlining the thank-you process” by combining a canned thank you letter with a required donation receipt, to save time and postage.  It is not about the plaque or the canned “Donor Appreciation Event.”

Showing true gratitude is about grace and humility. It is in every way about honoring others for the inspiring things they have done.  Showing gratitude is not just about honoring the folks who have helped recently, but the folks who made today possible by helping in the past. It is about picking up the phone, or writing a note, or doing something – anything – to say, “You helped us once. It made a difference. Thank you.”

In the words of the late Bill Clemens, one of my mentors early in my adult life, we must always be humble. But it is not enough to feel the humility of gratitude. We need to thank each other in any and every way we can. “Infinite service to all things present” is about bringing real joy to those for whom we are grateful.

And that leads us back to the question David asked. In what ways do you honor people who have inspired you? Please share, and I will send those responses to David.

* When philosopher and theologian Huston Smith asked Zen master Daisetz Suzuki, “What is zen?” these words were his reply.

2 thoughts on “Infinite Gratitude to All Things Past”

  1. What a beautiful post. I especially feel its timeliness during this month that can become so overwhelming with obligations and expectations, but that is such a perfect time to step back and say “thank you for all you do!”

    I am deeply grateful for the wisdom, guidance, energy, passion, commitment, vision, and practical suggestions you bring to my life and practice. I try to honor you in ways that you know about — small notes of support and thanks at the time of receiving a particularly wonderful nugget; saying “yes” whenever I can to your requests for a thought or some help; and connecting you whenever possible to other folks who share the vision.

    But there are other ways you don’t necessarily know about directly. Just as I did today in a retreat, I mention your name as often as possible when I draw on your thinking, always with a personal cheer for how important that thinking is to my work. I forward links to your site constantly, and lead clients to your materials. I think this has tremendous benefit for others, and it also models the community-building concepts we embrace.

    By the way, you are a master of sharing gratitude. In particular, I think of the spontaneous and heart-felt notes that you send off at the best times, on your beautiful photo cards from your travels!

    with lasting gratitude,
    Elizabeth Sadlon

  2. A person who inspired me in life and continues to inspire although he passed away at an untimely age is a former colleague and dear friend Lenny Zakim.
    He was passionate about making people’s lives better without regard to who they were. And he was comitted to bringing people together across all divides to make a difference. I try to live my life by honoring those values- doing work he would smile at and periodically asking myself-What would Lenny do? I also honor him by talknig about his life and the impact he had.
    Thanks for the opportunity to speak to that out loud again. It heals the loss of his not being here in person.


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