Gratitude is Contagious

[As seen on elephant journal]

The other day I heard a story about a man who lost his arm. This isn’t just any man; this is a man who I knew as “a regular” at my place of work. I saw him last week and noticed the stump of a limb that hung from his body, marred and rounded off at what would have been the elbow. He greeted me with a joyful smile, a wave of his good arm, and came through my line. He spoke to me familiarly, and I could have sworn I recognized him, but I couldn’t place a man with one arm in my memory. I would have certainly remembered this friendly sweet soul who is missing an arm; unmistakable. I forgot about the encounter until a few days later.


He came striding up to me and said, “Hey girlfriend how’s your day??” He was joyful, beaming, totally upbeat. This solidified that I must know him, I just recognize him, and my eyes darted unconsciously to his arm again. Why don’t I remember you missing an arm? It never occurred to me that something so life changing had happened to him since I’d known him. He couldn’t possibly be so incredibly happy if something like that had happened recently.


“How are you?” I asked him, reciprocating the upbeat banter. As if reading my mind he replied,

“Oh just recovering from my little boo-boo here.” I looked up to see him gesturing with his marred stump of an elbow. I met his eyes and let the confusion knit itself across my expression,

“What happened?”

He proceeded to tell me the story. Despite thirty years in the same job, constantly telling others not to wear loose clothing or gloves near moving machinery, he got too close to a gear lift in a pair of work gloves. He said he just went down to spray some DW-40 for a moment and in less than ten seconds his arm was gone. The only reason his upper arm was saved was because the motor automatically shut off after devouring him up to the elbow.


My jaw was dropped open in utter disbelief, shock radiating from the pupils of my eyes. He told the story so matter of fact.

“I’m getting better at using my left hand,” he said, and it was then that I realized he’d lost his right arm…even more of a challenge to overcome. A coworker of mine asked when it happened. February. Not even a month and a half had gone by since this happened. And here I had been wondering if this occurred in the two years I’ve been in my job! Four weeks. That’s it. This man’s life completely changed in four little weeks.


“I’m so sorry that happened to you…that is unbelievable…” was all I could manage.

“I’m just happy to be alive!” was his reply.


I’m just happy to be alive.


If only we could all think that way on a daily basis, without having to lose our dominant arm or have a near death experience to remind us of what a gift it is to just be breathing! To have two legs, to have two arms, to have sight, to have a heart beating in our chests…a gift!


My instinct is to feel it’s inherently cruel to feel grateful and learn such a lesson through someone else’s intimate, life-changing misfortune. But the reality is that it’s human to do so. That man learned the same lesson, and his positive reaction has ripple effects. They are rippling through me, and everyone whose path he crosses. When we hear of awful things happening to our fellow human beings, our brothers and sisters, we are affected. We feel the sorrow, the shock, the hurt, and the resulting gratitude at the gift of survival…the gift of life.


What is it to be human together in this ever-changing, uncontrollable world if we cannot learn from one another? If we cannot instill in one another deep set gratitude, appreciation, compassion, empathy?

I am grateful for that man, my friend, who lost his arm and still carries himself so gallantly though life. I am grateful for the effect he’s had on me. I am grateful for the reminder to not take something so precious as a hand, an arm, a body, a life for granted.


Let us be aware today, happy to be alive today, grateful today. Gratitude is contagious. So be grateful – because, really, there isn’t a moment to waste.


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Article first published here:


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