I opened another graduation announcement and looked at the very familiar face of a girl I’d known for the last six years. What a pleasure she had been day in and day out to teach…..
The hallway bustled with noise and excitement, as the first day of school began. The school had relocated into a shopping center the previous year and a new administrator replaced the administrator I had grown to love. The new crop of junior high students took their places in my classroom. I hardly noticed the soft spoken girl as she shyly took her place. She had long curly red hair and was eager to learn. At the end of class she unobtrusively made her way to me to say thank you before she left my room. She then proceeded to say thank you for every class for her entire seventh grade year. I had the privilege of teaching her again during her ninth and tenth grade years. Throughout those years, she did the same thing, “Thank you Mrs. Windecker”. I listened to her and mused at her ability to be close to tears and still say, “thank you”. It did not affect her classmates right away but I watched as Dara’s classmates began to say thank you. By the time they were in the tenth grade a small group of students were saying thank you before leaving my room. It took even longer for her to affect me…but slowly I started to see that she was living in a place that I had rarely visited. A place of thankfulness, Dara was thankful, regardless of the momentary problem. It was a paradigm shift for me. She touched me at the very heart of my being. Now just to be clear, I did pause regularly to “count my blessings”. I was in fact, religious about being thankful and my journal entries from those years make that abundantly clear. I would list the things I was thankful for and I did so regularly, but I was still not living in thankfulness. Thankfulness was not something I felt, it was not yet a part of me. Being thankful was only a religious exercise of listing things. I watched Dara until she graduated from high school and I marveled at her thankfulness. In fact, I slowly began to say, “Thank you” (with intentionality) and ever so slowly I became thankful.
Living in Thankfulness allows me to unequivocally state that I am thankful for the person I have become, as a result of my brother’s death. In fact I am truly living because of Ron’s death. I often think about the extra years I have been given and I celebrate life. I feel life, noticing the way it smells, the way it sounds, and the way it pulses around me. I celebrate my family by being present with them as they buzz around me. This often means the dishes do not get done or dinner is not served on time. I listen to them and laugh with them. I roll my window down when traffic is moving slowly and celebrate moving air and the relief of a mandatory pause in the frantic pace of life. The colors in autumn are brighter. The people at the grocery store are friendlier. Exactly what has changed? The same stop and go traffic effects I-25, the trees have always been bright, and the same people work at the grocery store.
Thankfulness is a process and I don’t mean to leave you with the impression that I am perfect. My piano teacher will tell you of many times when I said thank you through clinched teeth and my children could tell of times when thank you was merely an afterthought. As I intentionally focus on thankfulness, I once again become aware of the positive things in my life. Dara modeled thankfulness and in so doing she became the teacher and I the student. Thank you Dara!