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An Attitude of Gratitude

Christmas 2015 – Raven, Christopher, Carol, Suzanne, Joel, Mitch, Michael, Colin, Nancy, Christina

According to Cicero, “Gratitude is the greatest virtue and the parent all other virtues.” Gratitude is my word for the year and I hope it is my attitude for the year. There are so many things for which I am so grateful. I am grateful for my larger family, but I am especially grateful for my children and my sister. J am grateful for my friends. We have not been able to get together much during the pandemic, but that does not diminish their importance to me. I am grateful for my home and all the wonderful memories it holds.  I am grateful for my church and all the relationships that it represents. Our Sunday school class is exceptional.

I am grateful for my country. I am a proud American. I am patriotic. We are not perfect as a nation but we are moving in the right direction. I am grateful for my city and state. I owe a great debt to the public schools, to Mars Hill College, Furman University, the University of Alabama, Louisiana State University and Lander University. I am grateful for my home town and all the wonderful people there who helped me grow. I am grateful to Northside Baptist Church and all those wonderful people who encouraged me. I am grateful to the Board of Directors of the Charleston Speech and Hearing Center. They not only gave me a job, they gave me a life.

As I start a new year I am mindful of the two great loves of my life. Liz, Suzanne and Michael’s mother, stretched me in every way possible. She took a chance on me when only love could have made that possible. Carol rescued me from hell after Liz died. She brought joy and adventure to a tortured soul. I grieve that they went on without me, but I am grateful that I had them for as long as I did. They brought love, beauty, challenge and comfort into my life.

I am simply grateful for life and all that entails. I live in a beautiful city, I have wonderful neighbors. I have books, music, an inquisitive mind, and a restless spirit. When I look at my grandchildren, I am confident of the future. I am an incurable optimist. The world will not end today because it is already tomorrow someplace else. I have a faith that sustains me. “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

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Where and How It Started

The December 3, 2021 issue of the Charleston Post and Courier posted a column from the Washington Post by Catherine Rampell, ”Priceless lessons from my sixth-grade English teacher.” This column caused me to reminisce about my own beginnings as a writer.

When I was young, two important events happened to me on the same day that played a significant role in my future. I was called to the principal’s, office, Mr. Livingston, at Woodruff high school. There to my total surprise I was presented with a check for $15.00. I was the winner of the contest to rename the Woodruff Soap Box Derby. My winning name, the Thrill Derby.

When I arrived home my dad handed me a letter which contained a check from the Progressive Farmer magazine for my article, “The Champ and I.” It was then that my dad decided that my interest in writing just might pay off. Although both checks were small, they were huge for a young teenager.

My interest in writing was kindled by Miss Coleman, my sixth grade teacher at Northside Grammar school. She introduced us to poetry and then required us to write a poem. At first I tried to ridicule the assignment with an absurd poem, but finally turned in my poem, “South Carolina.” She liked it so much that she submitted it to the Spartanburg Herald. The editor must have liked it because one Sunday morning there it was in the newspaper. Miss Coleman did not return after the Christmas break, but she had left her mark.

Eventually I became editor of our high school newspaper, Woodruff High Times, and was on the staff of both the Mars Hill College newspaper and the Furman University newspaper, The Hornet. It was through the Hornet that I interviewed Edward Weeks, editor of the Atlantic Monthly, when he came to Greenville for a lecture. I did my homework and when the time came I was prepared. He invited me to stay after the interview. “There must be others like you at Furman. Tell your instructor that I would be happy to meet with a small group of students if she will arrange it.” Sara Lowery, head of the speech department, arranged a small luncheon in a private room in the cafeteria. We ate steak while the other students ate hotdogs. That experience taught me to always do my homework.

While working toward a Master’s degree at the University of Alabama I developed an interest in how we develop and apply listening skills. I also wrote a paper comparing the traditional freshman course in speech to courses in mass communication courses. This paper was accepted to be presented at the national convention of the Speech Association of America in Chicago. Dr. T; Earle Johnson for whom the paper was written didn’t think too highly of it when I turned it in to him, but after its acceptance by the national association he said, “Mitch, let me read that paper again.” A revised version was my first professional publication. It was published in the Furman University Studies Bulletin. Dr. Reid at Furman was my first real editor.

I owe a great debt to Ms. Eugenia Coleman and Dr. Alfred S. Reid. Both started me on a journey that still continues.

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Bring No Bitterness into the New Year

Many people regard New Year’s Resolutions with the same disdain they attribute to the much maligned fruitcake. I am a proponent of both. For several years now I have made the same New Year’s resolution and I ask God to help me to keep it.  I will take no bitterness into the New Year. Whatever has happened during the past twelve months that tends to sour my disposition, I resolve to let go. Whatever offenses I have suffered will not be dragged into the New Year.

Forgiveness is not as easy as it might sound. Partly it requires developing a thicker skin and realizing that I take far too many things personally. I need to lighten up. This is one of the concepts my friend, Dr. Monty Knight, discusses in his book, Balanced Living; Don’t Let Your Strengths Become Your Weakness. Continuing with Monty’s philosophy, I don’t have to go to every fight to which I am invited. That is a major concept. Let it go. Tom Newboult, a minister of religious education, once told me that sin is giving more importance to the moment than it is worth. In other words, don’t dwell in the negative. I think Tom hit the nail on the head. What a great concept!

Turning a negative into a positive is another methodology for dealing with difficult situations. Since I administered a not-for-profit agency for most of my career, I would often be attacked with, ”Well, Mitch, you are just an idealist.” My reply became, “Thank you. I hope so.” The main thing about forgiveness for those of us who are Christian to remember is that we are able to forgive because we have been forgiven.

Bitterness is a terrible task master. It will ruin your life and suck all the goodness you receive into a dark hole. I recommend a proactive approach. Go on an active campaign to make those around you glad that you are there. Build them up by helping them feel good about themselves. Say something nice. Compliment him or her in a real genuine way. Call the person by name. Offer a specific compliment about a real accomplishment. On the other hand when you receive a compliment acknowledge it graciously with a simple “thank you.” In my book, Christian Civility in an Uncivil World, I discuss the power of words, but I am by no means the first to come to that conclusion.

Practicing my resolution of taking no bitterness into the New Year has helped me live a more productive, less stressful life. I believe you will experience the same happy results if you give it a try. I warn you that this is not easy and requires a proactive intentional effort.

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Something to Celebrate

Whatever your traditions for the Christmas season may be, they are probably on hold for this year. There will be no midnight Christmas Eve service for me. My sister and brother-in-law probably will not be able to come and my daughter will remain in Tennessee. I cannot say that I am filled with my usual Christmas spirit. I am grateful for my family and friends. My children have really been a constant help this year. I have so much for which to be thankful.

I think that we can best celebrate Christmas and the year ahead by being the best of ourselves we can be and by making life brighter for others. A woman in Virginia celebrated her 53rd. birthday by doing 53 acts of kindness. She has the right idea. What are those things we can do to make life a little better for someone else? These need not be expensive things. I can’t leave a $!,000 tip for a server, but I can leave a little more than usual. I can call someone who lives alone or has no nearby relatives. I can be more thoughtful toward those I meet as I go about my daily or weekly routines. I can listen more and talk less. We may have voted differently in the recent election, but we can be more respectful of one another.

If we all are a little more thoughtful and a little less abrasive, we can turn the tide on incivility. That will be something to celebrate.

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