During our first week of this trip, I bought a small notepad at a stationary shop in northern Malaysia.
At the time, I was not sure what I would use it for. Very quickly, however, its purpose became clear.
Since that time, I have used it to scribble random acts of kindness that people have done for us along our way. I can safely say that by now this little notepad is well-weathered, and its pages are close to filled. Indeed everyday, multiple times, we experience immense kindness and hospitality and help from complete strangers.
During the first few weeks of the trip, I struggled with the magnitude and frequency of these random acts of kindness. I did not feel I knew how to say thank you adequately. The outpouring of love and luck and help we received felt like a burden to me, piling up gradually on my shoulders. I felt that my capacity-for-good-fortune had to have reached its maximum, and that I should be weary of asking for anything else from anyone.
At the start, these acts of kindness actually caused some contention within our group. We could not agree on how to say thank you, and even to whom.
Indeed this raised some very interesting conversations regarding graciousness. It matters hugely who you attribute your good fortune to. Who is sending all this help? Is it God, the universe, the individuals themselves, blind luck, coincidence?
If you thank God or the universe are you discounting the kindness and agency of the individuals themselves?
On the other hand, if you thank the individuals, regarding them as completely disconnected from one another, do you run the risk of demanding too much without considering your role in the larger (perhaps karmic?) order of things?
I have not resolved this question for myself yet, but in the meantime, I’ll keep “thank you” (in its various forms) on my tongue, and my little notepad in hand…