The simplest of gestures — a shared smile, a helping hand offered, or meaningful ‘thank you’ can brighten another’s day in profound ways. But, as Wellspring member Heidi learned, you can also change the value of your own life significantly by expressing your love, kindness and gratitude to others, every day.
Heidi has painted a series of cards which she leaves in a box at the front desk at Wellspring Birmingham Gilgan House. She encourages people to take a card, write a note on it, and share it with someone who has done you a kindness or someone you feel needs a pick me up, or to someone with whom you wish to share your friendship. The cards live in a beautifully painted box which Heidi lovingly refers to as the Box of Gratitude.
The Box of Gratitude
I never considered myself a creative person. I had never picked up a paint brush until I attended the Art Therapy program at Wellspring. How could I have imagined that I would now be painting every day? The joy I experience has helped me so much in this journey.
The idea for the Box of Gratitude started as a simple task when I was asked to write some feedback for other participants in our last session of the Writing for the Health of It program. We were given some color paper to do so. When I looked at the green computer paper, it was rather dull and uninviting. So I picked up my watercolor brush and started painting some birch trees on it. The paper did not seem right as it was too thin and the color came out wrong, different then I had expected. Then I replaced the green paper with some tougher paper which was specifically for watercolor painting and the visual image became so much more alive. I decided to paint five pictures for the five members in the group, and then I thought that would be the end of my task. Wait a minute, when I thought of my lovely co-members, different images and memories appeared. One was as calm as the deep blue sea, one was as vibrant as blooming flowers and one was as wise as an oak tree. Then I started to paint an individual card for each member, with a theme that resembled their smile, with a color that matched their mood, with an image that reminded me of their personalities. The process was personal but I could feel the connection with them in every brush.
I am a rather shy person and it I took some courage for me to show my work to some people: the driver who brought me to Wellspring, the volunteers at the front desk, and the members in the group. Their comments and feedback were positive and encouraging. They were appreciative of my effort and the meaning behind it. My imagination ran wild and I could not stop painting these little cards. I tried different colors, different images and different techniques. As soon as I had finished one, another idea popped up and I had to continue. My mood was reflected in my paintings. They were like mirrors, giving me a glimpse of my thoughts, my emotions and my spirit. I felt grounded in the present moment, my grasp on the past was loosened and worries about the future were suspended. There was no expectation, no judgment and I was totally relaxed and joyful.
In the midst of my painting, I thought “What if there were free cards available at Wellspring?” Members could choose a card that resonated with them. We could write to our loved ones, tell them how much we appreciate their support, every step of the way. We could write a note of gratitude to the drivers or volunteers at Wellspring, tell them how touched we are to see them show up, rain or shine. We could write a note of encouragement to our fellow warriors, tell them how important it has been to have each others’ company. We could write to the staff at Wellspring, tell them how lucky we are to be part of this community in which we share our experiences and support one other. Together we learned to combat our challenges, to look within, to be in touch our inner strength and to heal with dignity. We should not forget, as we often do, to write to encourage ourselves, just like we would encourage our best friend. Memory can fade and be distorted, but writing is such a wonderful tool to honestly record every moment, each is as important as the last one in life.
Now I only needed a box to hold all the cards I had created. Maybe I could buy a basket from Homesense. Wait a minute, Elva, the facilitator of the Art Therapy class once showed us how to decorate a box. I did not do that exercise back then, but now was my chance. I used a brown box, paper, watercolor, candle, glue, ruler, tape and scissors and the box turned out nicely, I think. I even gave it a name.
The box may be light, but it carries all my gratitude and all my best wishes to everyone at Wellspring.
It was harder than I thought to be parted from my art work. As much as I love to share, I felt quite attached to the work I created – not to the work involved, but in the experiences that are attached to each painting. The surprises, the attitude not to give up and to keep working on it, the determination to take some risks, the eagerness to express, the imagination running wild and the feeling of being alive. I developed a ritual to say goodbye to each one. I sign each card and take a photo of the painting. Isn’t it true in life? The highest respect to life is to fully enjoy the moment and be fully prepared to let go.