Lessons in Gratitude

Through Blueberry Pancakes and Free Hot Water

Photo by Rémi Walle on Unsplash

A Trip to Plymouth

This past Columbus Day weekend, my wife Cheri and I traveled to Plymouth, Massachusetts. For me, the trip was a nice way to recharge in the midst of a busy, but always fulfilling semester of college teaching. We were able to sample some nice restaurants, take in a lot of the local historical sites such as Plymouth Rock, The Jenney Grist Mill, and Burial Hill. We also had a great visit with some friends in nearby Kingston. Not only was it a relaxing weekend, but a thought provoking one as well.

“I’ll Have the Blueberry Pancakes, Please”

Photo by Gabriel Gurrola on Unsplash

Cheri and I decided to leave for home early Sunday morning. We wanted to get back to our home in Upstate New York sometime in the afternoon. We would have Sunday to rest and go through our mail. Since I had Monday and Tuesday off from school, I could use that time to catch up on grading and review my scheduled lectures for the remainder of the week.

Before hitting the road, we decided to have breakfast at our hotel. We sat at a table adjacent to a booth occupied by an elderly woman, whom I will call Nell. She was alone, and judging from the sparse crowd at that time of the morning, was not likely to be dining with anyone else. There were a couple of social groups who traveled to Plymouth for the Columbus Day weekend. Cheri and I assumed that Nell was a member of one of those groups.

Because we were in such close proximity, we were able to without trying, listen to her conversation with the waitress. Nell revealed that she lived alone in a New York City borough, where she maintained a small apartment. This woman marveled at the fact that her hotel room was cleaned every day and that there were fresh linens and towels provided as well. Nell told her waitress that she was being treated like a queen.

After mulling over some breakfast choices, in a sing song voice she stated:

“I’ll have the blueberry pancakes, please.”

A short time later, Nell’s waitress brought over a plate with four huge blueberry pancakes. In a voice that communicated much awe and wonderment, Nell stated that she would never be able to finish them all.

Another Pot of Hot Water: No Extra Charge

Photo by Charles Deluvio 🇵🇭🇨🇦 on Unsplash

Nell also ordered tea to go along with her pancakes. The tea must have been good, because she wanted more. Before she committed to having more tea, Nell asked the waitress if there would be an extra charge for a second pot of hot water. I found Nell’s request to be a little odd, because I have never recalled paying extra for additional coffee or tea, with my meal. Her waitress simply and without judgment told her that there would be no charge.

Nell’s reaction was priceless, as if some anonymous donor had dropped a million dollars in her lap.

During my trip back home, I began to reflect on what Nell taught me at breakfast earlier.

Lessons in Gratitude

The amenities of the hotel that Nell marveled about are things that I have always taken for granted. In the several hotels that I have stayed in throughout the years, the hotel staff have always changed the sheets, vacuumed my room, replenished my towels and washcloths. It was service that I expected as part of the price that I was paying to stay; I never saw it as something to be truly grateful for, like Nell did.

My encounter with Nell compelled me to think about gratitude and what that truly means. Here is what I discovered:

  • Abundance is not measured by material things or the amount of money in your bank account. For Nell, abundance was measured by a generous stack of blueberry pancakes, clean linens and a free pot of hot water. Things that many of us, including me, have always taken for granted.
  • Expressing gratitude for what we have is preferable to expressing entitlement over what we think we should have.
  • Our willingness to show kindness to others has a positive trickle down effect to others. Nell’s gratitude was not just for the meal that she received, but for her assigned waitress as well. I would have liked to find out how Nell’s gratefulness for the service that she provided, impacted that waitresses behavior towards others, for the remainder of her Sunday.
  • We never know the challenges of the path that another walks, a little kindness may make more of a difference in that person’s life then we can ever imagine.

Since Nell was also older, I figured that she was no stranger to loss either. She may have experienced the death of a spouse, sibling, or child, or perhaps all three at different times of her existence. She was also alone, and that coupled with any losses she experienced could have caused her to be bitter, angry and perhaps misanthropic. Instead she chose love, benevolence and gratitude.

There are two paths you can go by
But in the long run
There’s still time to change the road you’re on

From Stairway to Heaven- Music and Lyrics by Robert Plant and Jimmy Page

We are never too old to change the road that we are traveling, particularly when it leads to greater awareness of ourselves and our relationship to the world around us.

If we live long enough, we will not get through this life unscathed. Our losses are part of our past, orchestrate our present, and perhaps, determine our future. If we choose to first survive, and then thrive in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges, we can not only find ourselves, but look at life through a different lens.

The simplest things, or the things that we take for granted have more of an impact on our lives and the lives of others, then we could ever imagine.



Adjunct prof., Utica University. Co-author, When The Psychology Professor Met The Minister, with Reverend Patty Furino. www.psychologyprofessorandminister.com

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Dave Roberts

Adjunct prof., Utica University. Co-author, When The Psychology Professor Met The Minister, with Reverend Patty Furino. www.psychologyprofessorandminister.com