March 2016 Graduate Meeting

Videos for this meeting:
What a Wonderful World David by David Attenborough, BBC [2 min]
Gratitude by Louie Schwartzberg [6 min]

It’s ironic that for most of us, the most poignant and moving expressions of appreciation for us happen only after we die. I remember a memorial service for a neighbor who had died in the prime of his university career. Before the service, my main thought about him was that he was a grumpy loner and not very sociable. The day of his memorial, the university auditorium was filled with hundreds of people: friends, students and colleagues. More than a few students and colleagues spoke about how his teaching and mentoring had changed their lives. I was very moved, and as I listened, I realized how little I knew about him and was a little ashamed for having made such broad assumptions about the kind of person he was. I wondered how many of his students and colleagues had told him while he was alive what they so eloquently expressed at his memorial.

Most of us grow up with subtle and not-so-subtle cultural messages that discourage saying something positive about someone else and when someone says something nice to us, their praise is often difficult to accept. We might think, “they are just saying that to make me feel good” or “I wonder what they want from me?” Compounding this is not wanting to appear vain, so we might qualify or even deny the truth of a positive observation. Conversely, when we observe something positive about someone else, we often don’t share it with them, for fear that it might make them or us feel uncomfortable, or that they might think we have ulterior motives.

At this meeting, we explored the magic of showing sincere appreciation - magic that works both in us and in the person to whom we show appreciation.

All The Good Things
by Sister Helen P. Mrosla

    He was in the first third-grade class I taught at Saint Mary's School in Morris, Minnesota. All thirty-four of my students were dear to me, but Mark Eklund was one in a million. Very neat in appearance, but had that happy-to-be-alive attitude that made even his occasional mischievousness delightful ...
    Mark talked incessantly. I had to remind him again and again that talking without permission was not acceptable. What impressed me so much, though, was his sincere response every time I had to correct him for misbehaving -- "Thank you for correcting me, Sister!" I didn't know what to make of it at first, but before long I became accustomed to hearing it many times a day.
    One morning my patience was growing thin when Mark talked once too often, and then I made a novice-teacher's mistake. I looked at Mark and said, "If you say one more word, I am going to tape your mouth shut!" It wasn't ten seconds later when Chuck blurted out, "Mark is talking again." I hadn't asked any of the students to help me watch Mark, but, since I had stated the punishment in front of the class, I had to act on it. I remember the scene as if it had occurred this morning. I walked to my desk, very deliberately opened my drawer, and took out a roll of masking tape. Without saying a word, I proceeded to Mark's desk, tore off two pieces of tape, and made a big X with them over his mouth. I then returned to the front of the room.
    As I glanced at Mark to see how he was doing, he winked at me. That did it! I started laughing. The class cheered as I walked back to Mark's desk, removed the tape, and shrugged my shoulders. His first words were, "Thank you for correcting me, Sister."
    At the end of the year, I was asked to teach junior-high math. The years flew by, and, before I knew it, Mark was in my classroom again. He was more handsome than ever and just as polite. Since he had to listen carefully to my instructions in the "new math," he did not talk as much in ninth grade as he had in third.
    One Friday, things just didn't feel right. We had worked hard on a new concept all week, and I sensed that the students were frowning, frustrated with themselves -- and edgy with one another. I had to stop this crankiness before it got out of hand. So, I asked them to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space after each name.
    Then, I told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down. It took the remainder of the class period to finish the assignment, and, as the students left the room, each one handed me the papers. Charlie smiled. Mark said, "Thank you for teaching me, Sister. Have a good weekend."
    That Saturday, I wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper, and I listed what everyone else had said about that individual. On Monday, I gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. "Really?" I heard whispered. "I never knew that meant anything to anyone!" "I didn't know others liked me so much!"
    No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. I never knew if the students discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn't matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another again.
    That group of students moved on. Several years later, after I returned from vacation, my parents met me at the airport. As we were driving home, Mother asked me the usual questions about the trip -- the weather, my experiences in general. There was a slight lull in the conversation.
    Mother gave Dad a sideways glance and simply said, "Dad?" My father cleared his throat as he usually did before something important. "The Eklunds called last night," he began. "Really?" I said, "I haven't heard from them in years. I wonder how Mark is." Dad responded quietly. "Mark was killed in Vietnam," he said. "The funeral is tomorrow, and his parents would like if it you could attend." To this day, I can still point to the exact spot on I-494 where Dad told me about Mark.
    I had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before. Mark looked so handsome, so mature. All I could think at that moment was, Mark, I would give all the masking tape in the world if only you would talk to me.
    The church was packed with Mark's friends. Chuck's sister sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Why did it have to rain on the day of the funeral? It was difficult enough at the grave side. The pastor said the usual prayers, and the bugler played taps. One by one, those who loved Mark took a last walk by the coffin and sprinkled it with holy water. I was the last one to bless the coffin. As I stood there, one of the soldiers who had acted as pallbearer came up to me. "Were you Mark's math teacher?" he asked. I nodded as I continued to stare at the coffin. "Mark talked about you a lot," he said.
    After the funeral, most of Mark's former classmates headed to Chuck's farmhouse for lunch. Mark's mother and father were there, obviously waiting for me. "We want to show you something," his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. "They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it."
    Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded, and refolded many times. I knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which I had listed all the good things each of Mark's classmates had said about him. "Thank you so much for doing that," Mark's mother said. "As you can see, Mark treasured it."
    Mark's classmates started to gather around us. Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, "I still have my list. It's in the top drawer of my desk at home." Chuck's wife said, "Chuck asked me to put this in our wedding album." "I have mine too," Marilyn said. "It's in my diary." Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet, and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. "I carry this with me at all times," Vicki said without batting an eyelash. "I think we all saved our lists." That's when I finally sat down and cried. I cried for Mark and for all his friends who would never see him again.
           - from Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield
Closing Thoughts
[ contributed by Palouse Mindfulness graduates ]

from both Jan (South Dakota) and Hilary (UK):

    Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well
           - Voltaire

also from Jan (South Dakota):

    Appreciation is the highest form of prayer, for it acknowledges the presence of good wherever you shine the light of your thankful thoughts
           - Alan Cohen

from Sheila (Washington):

    When we express how someone's actions have positively affected our lives, we express appreciation.  In contrast, when we offer approval, compliments, or praise, we label the other person as good because of what they did......  It may seem like a small distinction, but when we acknowledge our met needs, rather than labeling the other as good or bad...... (we deepen) our connection to ourselves and other people. 
           - Mary MacKenzie

from Rose (New Jersey):

    As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.
           - John F. Kennedy

from Melissa (Idaho):

    It may be that when we no longer know what to do,
    we have come to our real work
    and when we no longer know which way to go,
    we have begun our real journey.
    The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
    The impeded stream is the one that sings.
           - Wendell Berry