Thank you Ila
Posted by Joseph Anderson
“Tell me another story Dad!” my four-year old daughter, Ila insisted.
“What? Didn’t you like the story I just told you?” It’s not that I didn’t want to tell her another story. I definitely intended to tell her another story at some point in the near future. That’s what I do every Tuesday, I pick her up from school in the early afternoon and we go on a hike somewhere and I tell her stories. But….I literally just finished telling her this elaborate story. I worked hard on this one. It was about a giant cedar log that began as a tiny sapling growing out of another log. I went on to explain all of the trials of life that this tiny sapling must go through to survive: to beat out the other saplings and continue on growing into a mature tree; I explained to her the honor a tree experiences to become big enough to harbor life; to eventually become big enough to survive a direct hit from lightning and then the greatest honor of all to become so big and grand that an eagle decides that this tree is a place for nesting…Finally, one fateful day after a few hundred years the tree becomes truly old and it falls over becoming a garden log for new saplings.
“Another one!” She demanded with no regard to any of my pitiful prying for gratitude. So on I went, launching dutifully into a new story about a small troll that lived in an abandoned Gnome house.
“And then what happened?”
And that’s how our hike went. I would tell a story and before I was completely sure that I was even done with one story Ila, was scraping for another one.
My first reaction was to be a little self-conscious with myself. Really? Why do I need gratification from my four-year old daughter? I chaulked it up to general weakness. Such neediness is weakness, is it not?
My mind wandered in inquiry; thinking of past efforts, big and small, jobs and labors made for employers and projects that are easily defined as work but also jobs that come across more as leisure, like a hike, or a ski tour or a climb. Sometimes I give more than I should have, sometimes less. Sure, we are paid for a formal job. And a ski tour or a climb can be a source of both instant and lasting gratification. But what is it with the need for acknowledgement and appreciation for certain efforts. If it is not authentic it doesn’t work. An unauthentic praise can even get in the way of the deeper fulfillment we can experience in our efforts. A labor is belittled by an approval like “atta boy”.
I just heard an interesting quote from Neil DeGrasse Tyson: “I believe the fear of death slowly goes away as you accomplish more with your life.” Someone who studies astro physics has a theory that the fear of death is tightly nit with your internal gauge on your accomplishments and over-all self worth. I like it. That probably means it may even be quantifiable. For example when you accomplish something deeply important your fear of death actually dissipates. But, like I said that sense of accomplishment can be internal, like climbing a mountain, or graduating from college. But that could also mean that when you compliment, acknowledge and thank someone in the most authentic sense you just may be helping them fear death a little less.
And so on the flip side what happens to me when I don’t appreciate? What became of all those months and years my wife raised my children while I was gone building a “career”. Putting huge efforts into climbing skyscrapers of ice and rock in far away lands, all for me. While she was wrapped in endless rainy days, cleaning up after two messy boys, changing their diapers, cleaning dishes. Did I ever say thank you for that? Which one of us fears death more regarding those days??? And what about my parents putting up with me as an adolescent? So many times I should have acknowledged. It’s really embarrassing to think about. Maybe the acknowledgement is just as much for us as it is for them.
But then again, this is Ila’s story time.
Get a grip!
So it was then that I became convinced that I didn’t need anything from my daughter: All I need is for her to pry and demand more stories. So I continued about the friendly troll that lived in the gnome house while she just straggled behind and listened.
Finally, arriving at the trailhead, Ila came running up to my side and took my hand.
“Daddy!” She said, then paused.
“Yes Ila?” I asked
She let out a big sigh, “I love you daddy.”
"Hehe," I feel better.