When I was about five, my grandfather gave me a silver dollar. My grandfather had twelve grandchildren at the time. Eventually he would have twenty-four, and he would often try to impress us. It was about 1960, and if you really wanted to wow a child in those days, you gave him or her a silver dollar. It seemed an impossibly large sum of money in a shiny, mysterious package. I didn't know how to spend it, and don't believe I ever did. Silver dollars doled out by my grandfather and other relatives in those days were confiscated by my parents, who did not trust us with them. Eventually, my mother put them in a bank account, and I believe they are still there today. Though the money would have made no difference to me, I should have paid more attention to the message that my grandfather delivered with it. He promised that if I wrote him a letter thanking him for this silver dollar, he would send me another one. That was the way thank-you letters worked, he told me.
I have only a few memories of my grandfather from this period of my childhood, but I remember well that on this occasion he was true to his word, and soon I had two silver dollars. Having experienced the truth of this principle, however, I failed to learn it. I never sent a second thank-you note for the second silver dollar. For some reason, I left it at that. It may be that I didn't need or want another silver dollar. After all, my mother would put it in the bank, and I would never see it. But I was blind to the real lesson he was trying to teach me. So I did not receive a third silver dollar.
A couple years before that walk in the mountains, as part of my pipe dream of a gentle, gallant law practice, I had fancied that I would be handwriting a lot of personal notes. My office manager had dutifully ordered some very nice personal stationery, several hundred notes and envelopes in a gentlemanly off-white. Soon we would be kicked out of our offices, and the return address on hundreds of unused envelopes would become obsolete.
Sitting on the concrete slab that is all that remains of the hotel at Echo Mountain, I listened to the voice, and then the following thoughts, first of my grandfather and his silver dollars, and then of the nearly useless envelopes. And I came up with an idea.
I would try to find one person to thank each day. One person to whom I would write a thank-you note. By the end of the year, I would have used up the stationery. I would have written 365 thank yous.
If my grandfather was right, I would have a lot more of what I was thankful for by the end of the year. If the voice was right, I would begin to get the things that I wanted. And if not, well, I had little more to lose.
I stood and began to walk down the mountain trail toward home. I had been in the mountains the entire day; I had walked nearly fifteen miles. I was exhausted and still had little hope, but I had figured out how I might go on. My only problem: Did I have anything to be grateful for? The way my life was going, I hardly thought so.
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