From Ruth Fishel in Spiritlifters: Gratitude Napkins

Gratitude Napkins

Frank’s Diner was once an energized, thriving business, a favorite spot for locals
and tourists alike in the scenic New England town of York Beach Maine. But when
the economy hit a brick wall, Frank found it more and more difficult to hold onto
his trademark, cheerful smile.
One day, Frank caught a glimpse in the mirror on the diner wall of a grumpy, scowling
old man with frown lines embedded deeply in the corners of his mouth. He didn’t
recognize the man as himself. Looking around his desolate diner, he knew that it
wasn’t just the economy that had driven his customers away – it was his pessimistic
attitude toward life. Frank had tried to remain optimistic but it seemed like the
hits just kept coming, like a NorEaster pummeling the coastline. He often wondered
what there was to look forward to each day.
His eyes met with a booth in the back corner of the diner where a frail elderly
woman ate breakfast with a college age girl. Mrs. Sheridan and her caregiver Michelle
had been coming in for breakfast every day for a couple of years. Frank would nod
and force his face into a smile when they walked in the door each day. They were
his best customers after all. Mrs. Sheridan would conclude each meal by scribbling
something onto a diner napkin and placing the napkin in her purse with a contented
smile.
One sunny fall day, even though the New England leaves painted a breathtaking landscape
outside the diner windows, Frank was oblivious to the beauty that surrounded him.
He was currently crouched under the counter, grumbling about how the dishwashers
were always leaving spots on the coffee mugs. A feeble voice above interrupted
his rant.
« Frank, I wonder if I could have a word with you. »
Frank nearly smashed his head on the cash register as he jumped to his feet, looking
at Mrs. Sheridan in surprise. Michelle held onto the old woman tight, obviously
propping her up. All Frank could do was nod agreeably.
« I wanted to talk to you about these… »
She lifted her trembling arm, pointing toward the frown lines on Frank’s face.
He opened his mouth to say something, to explain, to defend himself… but realized
he had nothing to say, so Mrs. Sheridan continued.
« Young man, I learned a long time ago that life doesn’t always go your way. Believe
me, I have 90 plus years of my fair share of heartbreaks and challenges that I could
easily carry around with me as baggage. Instead, I choose to carry these with me. »
She reached into her purse and took out a stack of the napkins Frank had watched
her scribble on every day. She had written things like: autumn leaves, Michelle’s
kindness, seashells from the beach, the beautiful sunrise today, another delicious
breakfast at Frank’s Diner.
« Frank I would like to challenge you to do the same; to stop carrying around your
struggles and start carrying an attitude of gratitude instead. »
After Mrs. Sheridan further described his daily « homework assignment, » Frank didn’t
have the heart to refuse her request.
At first he did it to appease her. As she watched from her booth each day, Frank
would dutifully take a napkin from a dispenser on the counter, scribble something
he was grateful for on it and put it in his pocket. The process was mechanical in
the beginning, mindless instead of mindful. But each time Mrs. Sheridan smiled over
at him, wordlessly encouraging him to continue.
Frank barely noticed when things began to change, when the words of gratitude he
jotted down on the napkin each morning began to sink into his thick, stubborn skull.
The attitude of gratitude he had inadvertently adopted through the sheer routine
of it, began to truly mean something. That was when Frank’s life began to change…
A little over a month into his daily gratitude homework, Frank once again caught
a glimpse of himself in the diner mirror. The reflection in the mirror was of a
glowing, joyful man whom he hadn’t seen for years. This man looked forward to each
new day with hope and enthusiasm.
Still smiling almost uncontrollably at the realization of how much life had changed,
Frank surveyed his now bustling business. Locals, staff, and tourists alike were
cheerfully enjoying the revitalized space. Even though Frank hadn’t made any physical
renovations, the diner somehow looked brighter to him. His eyes automatically drifted
to the corner, to share in the moment with Mrs. Sheridan. But for the first time
in a few days, the booth was empty. Frank’s heart sank…
A couple days later Michelle arrived and placed a box on the counter in front of
Frank with a solemn smile, tears glistening in the young woman’s eyes.
« Mrs. Sheridan wanted you to have these. »
Looking at the floor so she couldn’t see his own tearful eyes, Frank simply nodded
his appreciation. He felt an overwhelming wave of gratitude wash over him that such
a special lady had come into his life, and exactly when he needed her most.
By time the springtime leaves were blooming, Frank’s Diner was more popular than
ever in York Beach. There was one new feature in particular that was a huge customer
draw. When a diner patron reached for a napkin from a dispenser, they also received
a message of gratitude printed on it. Each message was word for word from Mrs. Sheridan’s
collection; along with a few from Frank’s own personal stash. Beneath the message
was the question – « What are you grateful for today? » with a blank line beneath.
Frank would watch from the counter as customers of all ages and from all walks
of life eagerly scribbled their answers on napkins, and almost always with a smile.
Mrs. Sheridan’s unwavering attitude of gratitude, it seemed, had transformed not
only his own life, but the lives of those around him as well.
What steps will YOU take today and every day to adopt an attitude of gratitude in
your life? Will you make the choice  to focus on your burdens or your blessings?
It is so easy to feel shortchanged when we focus on lack. But when we practice
gratitude as a daily habit, life has a way of transforming positively around us.
Whether you use something as simple as a napkin ora journal, when you write down
the things you are grateful for each day you’ll be changing your view of the world
around you, just one day at a time.
Linda McLean

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