Recently I had the good fortune of being the recipient of a little serendipity. It was not a big deal, but it was touching, nevertheless. I received an email from a student whom I know, but I don’t know this student well. He is a leader on campus, so I figured perhaps he wanted something. So I opened the email with no expectations at all that it would actually be serendipity in the making.
The email began with a cordial greeting. I appreciated that, but was not surprised. This student is someone who has his act together, so he knows how to engage people. I read on. He told me that he was involved with a group of students who were interviewing other students about some matters. One of the students who were interviewed singled me out and publically thanked me for some things.
This piece of serendipity was touching for three reasons. In the first place, it touched me that I received the email sharing this tidbit of news. Otherwise, I would never have known about this. It is not a big thing. The world would keep spinning, even if I never knew about it.
Secondly, I was touched that someone noticed something I apparently said or did. I do not know the name of the student who was interviewed and said the kind things about me. And in almost every way, I am glad I don’t know who it was. I am glad, because that way I am not tempted to rationalize why he or she felt this way and why he or she would have said it. This way the whole thing feels clean. Apparently I did something that was noticed and, perhaps, made a little difference. Many of us do this all the time.
Finally, I was touched that the student who was interviewed was thankful and said “thanks.” I appreciate the sentiment, although clearly I was never going to know about it, until the email came. The email was a kind of gift, in that it enabled me to know something special. Serendipity came my way and made my day.
I am delighted that a student knows the value of being thankful. Ultimately, I believe there is something spiritual in any encounter where a gift is given and thanks is the response. I sense the culture we live in does not do this too well. This is not the place to do a cultural analysis. I am more interested in what I like to call “the art of thanks.”
I do think offering thanks is an art. It is not a science, which has strict lessons and protocol on offering thanks. Saying thanks is determined by the one offering the thanks. Thanks always come out of recognition and response. Let’s look briefly at each one of these
We cannot be thankful if we do not recognize that in some way---either specially or in a general sense---we have been gifted. To recognize that we have been gifted requires a level of awareness that enables us to recognize it when true. Perhaps too many people lead unthankful lives because they lack the awareness that enables them to recognize how they are gifted.
But to recognize we have been gifted does not mean we necessarily will respond. That requires actually being thankful---saying thanks in some fashion. This apparently is what one student did when he or she mentioned me. It was serendipitous that I was able to know about it. I was touched and thankful!
The spiritual lesson for me in all this is to continue practicing the art of thanks. If I am honest, I know that I have been copiously gifted. My life is a gift. Thanks! Whenever I am tempted to think that I am a self-made man, I should recognize that simply is not true. I have been gifted with talent, with opportunity, with mentors, etc. That does not discount the work we do to make something out of ourselves. But I don’t want to be so delusional to think I did it all myself.
For me, the art of thanks recognizes the creative Spirit behind and in everything in life. The art of thanks recognizes many others who have played a role in my life and those who are playing a role. I want to respond to all of them by practicing the art of thanks.
Spiritually speaking, practicing the art of thanks closes the loop to the act of gift. Gift and thanks are the twin pillars of the divine-human encounter. And if it true of that encounter, gift and thanks are also the pillars of meaningful human-human encounter. Saying thanks and being thankful is an art. Practice it. Become artists of the Spirit.