Words from the Latin root word “grat” have to do with being pleasing. “Gratus” is to be thankful, which became “grateful.” “Gratis,” meaning esteem or favor, evolved as “gracious.”

Gracious and grateful – words in the same immediate family, yet worlds apart for me. This journey is helping me bridge the emotional gap between them.

My upbringing was no picnic, which I have alluded to in other posts. It was, in the words of abuse survivor Patrick Stewart, “barely tolerable.” I have spent my adult life working hard to neutralize the negative childhood messages drilled into my subconscious: You were not wanted. You will never amount to anything. You are not important. You are not loved.

When those you trust and rely upon to take care of you tell you that you have no value, you tend to believe them. Is it any wonder that as an adult, I took criticism to heart, and let praise roll right off me? It is also no surprise I found it almost impossible to accept generosity, assuming there were strings attached, or tripping to the emotional default: I Am Not Worthy.

When people were kind to me as a young adult, I assumed they pitied me; they saw the shipwreck of my existence and tossed a lifesaver. It couldn’t have occurred to me then that they saw the drive and the potential and wanted to contribute to a promising future.

When I achieved some career success, life became a mental tit-for-tat. I kept score, always vigilantly cognizant of the favors done for me, so that I could reciprocate in kind. Gifts begat gifts. One good party invitation deserved another. It wasn’t a competition; it was the only way I knew how to accept generosity. And in my mind, I was always in arrears.

This new way of living presents almost boundless opportunities for personal growth. Think about it: I no longer have a home for lavish parties, or an income suited for presents and picking up the tab; what I do have is time and attention, a love of meeting new people and learning new things, and an endless enthusiasm for life. In other words, I have me to give.

At the same time I have less to offer in the way of tangible things, I have been blown away by the outpouring of affection and generosity of total strangers who have given tours, meals, parking, introductions, camaraderie, and friendship, with zero expectation of anything in return.

Take, as a shining example, the Kaiglers from Detroit. I met them at the Kentucky Derby, at a time that I was feeling particularly sorry for myself because of my health. They were just the tonic I needed.

They extended an invitation: “If you are ever in Detroit, let us show you around.” I replied, “I hope you mean it, because I have a motorhome and nothing but time on my hands, and I’ll take you up on it!”

Preparing to exit New England at the end of the summer, I emailed the family about potential dates. My visit would coincide with Shirley’s birthday, which didn’t bother her in the least. She got busy planning.

On my first day in town the Kaiglers introduced me to friends, and they all gave me a walking and driving tour of Detroit. Their pride in their city and all that is being accomplished was infectious. We ate and drank at some of the newest and best bars and restaurants in Detroit along the way.

The next day it was time for the annual family apple picking outing, followed by lunch, where I got to meet more new friends and see some of the family I met in Kentucky. It was wonderful to see everyone again.

On my last day in the area, Shirley, her husband Darnell and her sister Regina took me to their getaway on Lake Huron in Canada, where we had lunch and watched the sun set.

The entire Kaigler family are the embodiment of graciousness. After three days, my face hurt from smiling and laughing so much. I felt warm and welcome.

The Kaiglers, and so, so many others, are not merely restoring my faith in humanity, which was a pretty tall order given my time as a trial lawyer. I am infinitely grateful for the opportunity to shed the vestiges of toxic thinking and to embrace the kindness of others on its face. That is the greatest gift of all.