The breeze ruffles my hair as I pedal steadily down the path. The smell of frying bacon wafts from a nearby home. Dog-walkers chatter in the grassy parkway. I pass a mother holding a coffee mug in one hand and her toddler’s hand in the other. Birds twitter, the sun shines, and I’m wholly happy and grateful for discovering this bike/pedestrian path during my out-of-town trip.
I park my bike and read the small sign. These are gratitude trees. A group called Spread the Sunshine Gang asks, “What are you thankful for?” and invites passersby to share it with the world. They supply the tags, pens, and string. You offer the gratitude.
“I’m grateful for all the good things that have happened in my life”
“I’m thankful for my family, my pets, my job and coworkers. I’m thankful God is part of my life.”
“I get to live in this great place”
“I am grateful for my health and being able to enjoy living”
The tags are abundant. Some have faded in the summer sun. Many echo the love of family and friends. Others are scribbled by a child’s hand. Several are in different languages. I cannot decipher them all, but the intentions are clear.
“Gracias por todo” Thank you for everything.
Each handwritten tag is someone’s public thank you. Their declaration of gratitude written for all to see.
Some are funny.
“I love my family..even though they cause me chaos”
Others are heart-wrenching and poignant. I feel the depths of their meaning even if I don’t know the details.
“I’m grateful I could finally let the love of my life go.”
“I thank God I have a safe place to live now”
All of them are beautiful, just as the people who wrote them. I wonder at the hand and heart behind each tag. At the stories and journey behind each writer. I marvel at what a beautiful display they make, colorfully fluttering together in the breeze like prayer flags at Everest’s basecamp. Afterall, our personal stories are like snowflakes or thumbprints: individual. Yet our survival depends on each other. If we lose our common humanity–our compassion toward each other’s journey–we lose everything.
We all experience struggles and joys. Difficulties and triumphs. Yet I wholeheartedly believe we are meant to experience compassion, community, and kindness even when our beliefs don’t match. This circle of trees in an urban pathway reminded me of that. It renewed my hope. At a time when division defines us, I appreciate any reminder of our likenesses rather than our differences. Despite what some may say, I still believe there is more good than bad in this world. Taking a moment to say thank you–even amidst struggle–feels downright holy to me. Sacred. Necessary for my heart.
As I finish reviewing the tags, a father and son approach holding hands. The high-school aged boy rocks back and forth, averting eye contact and mumbling to himself in a way that indicates autism. The father smiles and reaches for a tag. I see their heads bend together and hear the father address his son. What are they thankful for today? I can’t know, but I sense they came with grateful hearts. I bike away thinking of Margaret Mead’s quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Thank you, Spread the Sunshine Gang, for encouraging grateful hearts. Thank you for reminding me of our collective good, our shared human experiences, and our similarities. Our goodness will always shine. Even if it is anonymously on a little tree branch.