An expression of love: Appreciation and Gratitude

by Al Vasquez 2/21/1999

This evening I’m going to talk to you about “appreciation and gratitude”.

I used to think that I knew what those two words meant. But I really didn’t. It took an experience on the streets of San Antonio to get me to really understand what those two words mean.

The dictionary gives several meanings for both words, as you might expect. The one I like best for “appreciation” is: recognition of the quality, value, significance, or magnitude of people and things. My favorite for “gratitude” is: thankfulness.

We recognize value and are thankful.

What I discovered is that recognizing value, whether in people or in things, is a relative thing. A pipe wrench to a chef means a lot less than it does to a plumber. And yet, it is still, objectively, a pipe wrench.

Give a carpenter a hammer and he’ll build you a house, give me a hammer and I will smash my thumbs.

A piano, to most of us, is wood, metal, and ivory; to a pianist, like my daughter, a piano is the embodiment of a passion. Listening to her play the piano is such a beautiful thing that it brings tears to my eyes. Sit me down at a piano and it’ll bring tears to your eyes.

Everyone and everything means something different, has a different value, to each one of us.

Here’s a dollars worth of change. I’m willing to bet that it means something different to each and every one of you. I’m willing to bet that for everyone that is here, this dollars worth of change will be valued in so many different ways.

It’s all in examining the evidence that you see. We all see different evidence.

I’d like to tell you why I believe the way I do.

About a year ago, I was driving to work when I came to a stop near  an intersection.  As I was waiting for the light to change and the traffic to start moving, I noticed a street beggar a couple of cars ahead of me,  walking from the corner towards a car.

This man looked like a typical panhandler: The same grungy old jeans with grubby old T-shirt that I had seen on so many others.  Worn-out sneakers and baseball cap. A wild beard on a face that betrayed too many hours out in the weather. A street beggars look.  A man in such a small world that it might as well be a prison.

Although he was too far away for me to hear, I could tell that he spoke briefly to the motorist ahead me as he extended his hand and then slowly withdrew it with the bounty of the moment – what I guessed must have been maybe a dollars worth of change.

Then it happened.

And everytime I tell this story, it’s like I am re-living that moment. It made such a powerful impression on me.

He moved away from the car and returned to his corner.  Without turning, and holding his money with both hands, he bowed his head in prayer – in gratitude.  And he prayed with such an intensity, with such feeling, that he shook as he prayed. For a handful of change, he trembled with gratitude.

In that moment, in a stunning revelation, I saw my own life compared to this beggar and I was overwhelmed. I sat there as if frozen in time, experiencing one of those rare moments in life when a powerful truth is revealed. Without conscious thought but with a raw surge of emotion, my awareness was heightened.

I saw a man so appreciative of a small gift – of now possessing a handful of change that he was overwhelmed with emotion. He trembled with gratitude.

The beggar could have easily found ample evidence that his condition was a miserable, depressing, and terrible burden. He could have looked at the money in his hands and wonder how he could possibly survive on it. But he didn’t. He turned it around.

He found a different kind of evidence. He saw that there was an Abundance in life that had not forgotten him. He raised the value of the money in his hands and it became a special gift. He became the final judge of his circumstance. And in that choice was his power.

In that moment of decision I saw his power and I was overwhelmed. In that moment of heightened awareness I was touched by Grace and I was changed forever.

Yes, this beggar, who I had so wrongly perceived as being a prisoner of his own making taught me a powerful lesson about appreciation and gratitude. I will never forget it.

He was giving to me what he felt that he had received – a gift of love. He was living with an attitude of gratitude. He shared it with me. And when I did, I was overwhelmed with gratitude.

I can imagine, in my mind’s eye, God looking over all of humanity on that particular morning – hearing the call of man. There are calls from kings, there are calls from presidents and other very powerful and important people.

He ignores those calls. But there is one call that gets His attention. It’s from a beggar on the streets of San Antonio. On that weekday morning, when God looked around he saw a man with an attitude of gratitude.

And when He acknowledged him I was overwhelmed. If I had been standing I would have fallen to my knees. But I was sitting in my car. The light changed and I could barely see. I thought I might have to get off the road.

God shed his grace on me and I trembled with gratitude.

And when He acknowledged him I was overwhelmed. If I had been standing I would have fallen to my knees. But I was sitting in my car. The light changed and I could barely see. I thought I might have to get off the road.

God shed his grace on me and I trembled with gratitude.

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