It was a treasure buried in the books I inherited from my friend.
There, between a decades-old travel guide to Italy and a warped medical dictionary, was Lillian’s journal. At first, I thought it was just another book, but I read the title: The Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude. It was inscribed in the front by a friend, Debbie, who gave it to Lillian in 1998 when she retired — the first time.
I opened the book, and in the first gratitude entry I saw, she had written “Tammy and David” on her list. Seeing our names in her handwriting made me cry. And I kept crying as I read entry after entry.
It may seem too personal to write about someone’s journal, and I debated about whether I should. But I know that although Lillian was private in some ways, she liked attention. And I think she has a lesson for us all.
She was ultimately The Director. She directed and wrote — with our help and others’ — University of Central Arkansas Torreyson Library murder mysteries. When it got unruly at rehearsal, she raised her hand and asked: “What’s the question?”
We’d reply dutifully: “Who’s the director?” She was.
She also directed Community Arts Association of Conway plays. In her journal, one of her gratitude listings was “a good rehearsal for Plaza Suite,” which I performed in.
She didn’t go into a lot of details in her entries. She was grateful for “clean sheets,” “a fire in the fireplace,” “books” and “a glass of wine on the deck.” She was grateful for phone calls from her daughters and her stepdaughters and lunches with friends.
One day she was grateful for “a good haircut.” Amen to that. I smiled at another gratitude entry: “I looked pretty today.”
The most common subjects of her gratitude were for St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, her dogs through the years, her friends and her husband, Fred. She wrote “my sweet Fred,” “the love of my husband” or “most of all, my precious Fred” on every entry.
My husband and I were friends with Fred and Lillian for about 25 years. Fred was a longtime newspaperman and wrote up until weeks before he died in September 2018 — at 100 1/2. Lillian missed him desperately. She died seven months later in April 2019 at 86.
I’m not sure when she started writing in this journal because she didn’t date it, and she skipped some months. Her late entries were in 2007. She wrote 17 years ago: “I’m still alive at 69!” She beat colon cancer in 1999 and was thankful for her doctors.
Another time she wrote, “I’m in pretty good shape for an old broad,” which made me laugh.
We spent many hours at their home on the lake, enjoying Lillian’s homemade Italian dinners and sitting on their deck, laughing. We always laughed a lot.
It touched my heart that David and I were listed several times, as were her other friends. She wrote that she was thankful for “My dear David Keith,” and once she even wrote “Sweet Tammy.” That must have been early on in our friendship before she got to know me better. She did get annoyed with me occasionally, but we were still close friends to the end.
I will admit that I’m a glass-half-empty kind of woman. I immediately see the flaw or mistake in something. I’m just wired that way. However, multiple studies have shown that keeping a gratitude journal or writing a thank-you note can rewire your brain and make you happier.
I’ve always been a big thank-you-note writer, but I’ve never kept a journal or a diary. I’ve decided to start.
I have so much to be grateful for in my life: my parents, my children, the joy of being Mimi, my amazing husband. And I am grateful for my friend Lillian, who left me a gift.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.