Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Be thankful like you mean it

Gosh.  Thanksgiving.  A gleeful and hedonistic start to the Christmas season proper.  We try to rein ourselves in to acknowledge the real reason why the house is overcrowded and the table is bowing under the weight of its delicious burden. Even if we’re perpetually aware and thankful for our bestowments, we take a special moment or two on this particular day to “officially” offer up our gratitude.

The further along I get toward “geezerhood” (thanks, kids), the more I find that it’s not always fulfilling enough to only be thankful.

I once saw a man in the city who had waterproofed himself by tying scraps of different umbrellas (with the metal ribs still attached) to his coat and sweatpants.  Ingenuity out of necessity, for sure, and necessary because this man was outdoors.  I instantly remembered him as I scurried into the house on a recent bitter, cold and rainy day and a wave of warmth and comfort hit me as soon as I opened the door.  My heart had already issued silent thanks before I’d even had time to think on it, but it didn’t make the image go away, because I knew that all my thankfulness wouldn’t help that man in the least. 

Sometimes, when we sit down to too much food at the table, my dad will recount his memories of a host family he lived with in China during his days with the Merchant Marine.  He says that he would look around their dinner table and note that he could comfortably have eaten not only his portion, but everyone else’s, as well – the entire spread was incredibly small.  Every night.  That story sticks with me and always makes me thankful for my food, but none of it helps hungry people to not be hungry.

And so I try – and encourage others also – to reinforce gratitude with action.  Volunteering for various social service projects can be very satisfying.  It usually costs nothing but your time and most towns (even small ones like ours) have a need for helping hands.   

But sometimes there just aren’t any hands-on options available and I’m not always in a position to offer financial support.  Like in the case of the umbrella man.  The best I could do for him and others like him is to relay his story to my boys and use it to teach them about being grateful for what they have as well as to have compassion for those who have not.  Hopefully, it will be something they remember when, someday, they find themselves in a position to turn their appreciation into action.  And if there’s no one with which to share lessons of goodwill?  I don’t know – say a prayer, perhaps?  I just think that any action taken in support of being grateful makes all the difference.  It’s so important to be thankful like you mean it.

Here’s wishing you all a happy, healthy, fulfilling Thanksgiving.

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