Gratitude is easy to overlook in our busy lives. Even if we practice meditation or prayer, do we really take the time to express gratitude for our daily blessings? Perhaps our darkest days are the most important time to make gratitude a daily practice because that’s what brings us back to the light. As a specific vibrational energy, gratitude essentially announces to the universe that we are thankful for what we already have and then creates more of that energy. Every time you practice saying “thank you” from your heart, positive changes begin in your life. Whether the effects are small or large doesn’t matter.
I learned the lesson of gratitude the hard way. I was standing at the bottom of my own personal mountain, feeling stuck. I had just lost a great job because of company reorganization, and I found myself unable to manifest anything new in my life. I had forgotten all about gratitude, meditation, and prayer; instead I was wallowing in fear.
Lounging alone in a small café and drinking some green tea, I couldn’t grasp the fact that I had just lost my job. An immediate panic filled me with a doom-and-gloom attitude. What was I going to do? I worried. I was single, living abroad, with no close family nearby. I didn’t want to rely on my friends to put a roof over my head. Would I have to give up my European adventure and head back home defeated? Not speaking the native language made it even more difficult to launch a new career, and without savings, time was not on my side. Instead of feeling gratitude and placing my energy into new and positive actions, I felt enveloped by immense despair. After all, my career had been my life—now it was suddenly gone. Just like that, it had disappeared, and I was not at all prepared.
Glancing about the room again, I suddenly noticed an older fellow who was also sitting alone at a table on the far side of the café. He stood out among the many couples sitting together like cooing pigeons in love. This only made me feel worse—not only did I not have a job, but I also did not have a partner. Life was not at all good at that moment!
I looked at the stranger again and felt inexplicably drawn to him. He seemed to radiate an air of wisdom. With a weathered face and uncombed hair already whitened by time, he was completely out of character among the rest of the young patrons. His eyes bulged out of their sockets, yet they were friendly and open.
As I was daydreaming about the strange feeling I was having, the stranger suddenly looked directly into my eyes. Embarrassed, I pretended I hadn’t been staring the entire time. Turning away and not knowing what to do, I sipped my tea and looked out the window. I went back to thinking about my worries. What was I going to do? I loved the city I lived in and didn’t want to start all over again somewhere else. This was home.
Before I knew it, the stranger was standing at my table and introducing himself. I was shocked. I thought this seemed rather bold, and I worried I had given him the wrong impression.
“Hello,” he said. “I hope you won’t take offense to this, but you look like you’re in need of some company.” Extending his hand, he added, “I’m Tom.”
At the risk of being impolite (after all, I had directed my energy toward him), I decided I might as well say hello. It was time to forget about fear of the unknown for a moment.
“Hi,” I replied quietly.
“Mind if I sit down?” he asked. Sensing my uneasiness, he added, “Don’t worry. I’m actually the one in need of some company, and it would help me a great deal to have someone to talk to for a short while. I noticed you looking over in my direction, and my intuition told me that we might help each other in our current solitude.”
Tom smiled. How did he know I was lonely? Was it that obvious, even in a room full of strangers?
“Where are you from?” he asked as he sat down.
“Canada,” I replied somewhat shyly.
“You’re a long way from home.”
“Yes, I moved here many years ago,” I said, frowning. I really didn’t want to get into the age-old story about why I left home, but at the same time, I didn’t want to be rude because something about the stranger captivated me.
“How do you like it here?” Tom asked.
“I think I have a love/hate relationship with the country, but I’ve been here so long that it’s my home in some way.”
“I understand,” he replied. “I think people always feel somewhat alienated when they’re not living in the country they grew up in. I’m from Ohio, also a long way from home. I moved here with my wife some years ago to be with our daughter, who teaches English here.”
I eyed Tom carefully, unsure why he was sitting here talking with me. I was, however, no longer alone. That was one good thing, I had to admit, and my frown began to disappear. Not knowing what to say, I asked him what he did. Tom lit up.
“Well, I’m retired now, but I was in the Army for many years, and after that, I became a priest. The Army woke me up to the reality of life versus the reality of God.” I sat up a little straighter in my seat and raised my eyebrow. I leaned in, more eager to hear Tom’s story.
“I was in the priesthood for five years,” he continued. “I wanted answers—answers to why God would allow the things that I’d seen in the Army to happen. I was angry, and becoming a priest gave me the time I needed to heal. During that time, my faith taught me a great lesson—one of gratitude. Instead of focusing on anger, I made it a practice to thank God for each small gift that landed in my lap. Whether that gift was a butterfly flitting by or the smile on someone’s face when I was delivering a sermon, I began to feel happy for these things.
“Then four years after becoming a priest, ironically enough, I fell in love! I was given the greatest gift of all to be thankful for. I met Jenny at a charity auction our church was having. I took one look at her and knew my life as a priest was over.” Tom let out a low chuckle and glanced around the room, taking a sip from the beer that the waitress had just brought him.
“That’s an incredible story,” I said, both mesmerized and hopeful after hearing this stranger’s personal account.
“It is, but let me remind you that it was the small acts of gratitude every day that eventually brought the largest gift to me,” he insisted. “The size of the gift doesn’t matter. By thanking the Universe, God, or whatever you believe in, you send out a message. Sooner or later that message will come back to you. Whether it’s a negative or a positive thought, you are still sending out a message. Don’t forget that.” Tom’s words struck me to the core, and I wondered how he knew just what to say.
“Gifts are given, unwrapped, and eventually put aside so that another gift may appear,” Tom explained. “Enjoy the gifts you have in the present … no matter what the outer circumstances.” Tom paused before continuing. “This past year was a hard one for us. If I’d only known then what I know now, I would have been thankful for each and every moment, not wasting time thinking of a future that might not be.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, noting the sudden sadness in Tom’s voice.
“Jenny died of lung cancer a few months ago.”
I gasped. I couldn’t help myself. Here I was feeling totally and utterly alone and assuming this stranger had so much more to be grateful for than me, when in actuality his wife had just died of cancer.
“I’m so sorry,” I replied sheepishly.
“Don’t be,” he said. “We had many good years together.” Tom changed the subject and kept talking as if we were old friends—and in some way, I felt that we were. Deep down, I knew Tom was in this café for a reason. I wanted to know more about gratitude and how I could best adapt the practice when I didn’t feel I had so much to be grateful for.
“How can you practice gratitude when someone or something is taken away by God?” I asked him.
“Ah, you’re a skeptic,” he responded. “Cynical, like I once was. A word of caution: Skepticism kills belief, which kills the truth. This will start running you into all sorts of troubles with drama.”
“I just lost my job,” I said, wanting to get that off my chest.
“Aha, and you’re in a state of panic, wondering what on earth you have to be grateful for at a time like this,” he offered.
“Exactly,” I said with a worried look.
“Don’t worry. Everything will be all right,” he told me with a gentle smile. “Just implement my practice. That’s all. Your reality is however you believe it to be.”
“How does one turn doubt or a wish into reality?” I asked.
“With gratitude and knowing that it already exists,” he said with certainty. “Just attempting to think it into reality won’t work because if it’s not already present in your consciousness, you have doubt. A thing can only exist when you don’t doubt it, and few people can believe in something without a single drop of doubt present.”
“But I believe in things without having doubt, and they still don’t come to be,” I protested.
“Are you certain that there’s no doubt present?” Tom asked me.
“Yes, absolutely,” I replied.
“I’ll tell you something, but first I’ll ask you to take a leap of faith,” he said. “Have no doubt at all as to what I’m about to tell you. Can you do that?” I felt a bit doubtful, but I wanted to see where he was going with this.
“Yes, okay,” I said, deciding to place my complete trust in this stranger.
“Great! Can you believe that I’m going to create a blue elephant and pull it out of my pocket?” he asked.
“What?” I replied skeptically, assuming Tom must be a good practical joker.
“Voila! There it is—your doubt,” he said. “Because what I said seems completely unreasonable to you, you can’t believe it. For many people, it’s like this with miracles. Miracles usually seem completely unreasonable to our mind, don’t they?”
“I suppose they do,” I replied, knowing I had failed his little game already.
“There’s a great lesson—never judge by appearances or pre-empt your own thinking,” he advised. “Faith and gratitude are the keys. You had no faith that I could produce an elephant from my pocket. Of course, you also assumed I meant this literally. Your mind wondered if perhaps I was a magician and would somehow make one appear out of thin air. Kiddo, you have great faith in magicians! And I’m sorry to admit that I’m no magician, and I myself don’t have the faith to produce your real blue elephant in this manner.”
I sighed, understanding the moral of the story. Tom drummed his fingers on the table as if discovering some great new secret that needed to be announced.
“You don’t need vision boards, affirmations, or any of those wishful thinking tools,” he said next. “What you need is gratitude. That’s all. God requires nothing, remember? I will tell you this—there is no secret.”
“There is no secret?” I asked, repeating Tom’s words to give my mind a chance to fully absorb this statement.
“No. Why on earth would God keep secrets?” he responded. “I think God is the most open person I know. There’s absolutely nothing you need to buy into. Yet we believe that in order to get to God, or to receive our wishes, we need all these tools. One day I’m certain that you’ll see—and then you’ll say the same thing to someone else in order to help them see, within your own personal gratitude.”
Tom grew silent, seemingly knowing that what needed to be said had been said. I took my last sip of tea. I felt less alone in the world and grateful that God had appeared as this stranger on my doorstep. Then Tom delivered some final words before he disappeared.
“Remember kiddo, all you have to do is wake up and it’s easy. Just choose gratitude, and you’ll see as much light along the way as you choose to give. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you. It’s late for an old man like me, and it’s time I should be going. Thank you for allowing a stranger at your table. Oh, and remember—no doubt.”
Tom reached into his pocket and pulled something out, placing it on the table. I assumed he was being a gentleman and paying for our drinks. I got up to thank him and say goodbye.
As I sat down again, I looked at the paper he’d put down. He had indeed left money for our drinks, including a huge tip. But that wasn’t what struck me. What shook me back into awareness was another piece of paper under the bills. On the paper Tom left on the table was a picture of a blue elephant with the following words written below the image: Remember—Always say thank you.