I’m not questioning their gratitude.
I too am thankful for those gifts.
I’m also thankful for hot showers, coffee, the internet, my car’s heated seats, wine, Netflix and a husband who sends me roses when he knows he’s made me mad. And I’m not going to feel selfish for saying so.
There is, after all, something to be said for heartfelt thanks, such as that expressed by my fourth grade classmates in November 1976.
In those days before word processing, personal computers and printers, my teacher typed her students’ responses to the question “What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving?” Later, she gave each of us a mimeographed copy of our responses.
In reviewing the gratitude in that booklet, I am completely in awe of the wisdom of a group of fourth grade students in a rural community in 1976.
We knew to be thankful for our bicycles and birthdays and toys.
We knew to be thankful for teachers and doctors and friends.
Reading the words of a group of children who are now middle-aged adults marked by the scars of experience, I can’t help but smile and recognize something else for which I am extremely grateful.
I got exactly what he was saying.
Making a list of things for which we are thankful for is simple. Living a life that demonstrates our gratitude and shares our blessings is entirely different.
John F. Kennedy understood this, and his quote about gratitude being shown not by the words we utter but by the life we live always makes me smile.
Day 145: JFK’s quote about gratitude Day 144: Watching My Dog Play
Day 143: Having my Family’s Basic Needs Met Day 142: When Our Children Become Role Models Day 141: Random Acts of Kindness Day 140; People Watching Day 139: Sharing Interests with My Children Day 138: Eleanor Roosevelt’s Best Advice Day 137: Weird Human Behavior about Garbage Day 136: Postcards from Heaven Day 135: Mickey Mouse Day 134: Generous Souls Day 133: I’m Moving On Day 132: A Family That is Really Family Day 131: A Personal Motto Day 130: Mork and Mindy Day 129: The Bears’ House Day 128: Veterans Day 127: Doppelgangers Day 126: Letting Life Unfold as It Should Day 125: The Constantly Changing Sky Day 124: When History Repeats Itself Day 123: The Love Scene in The Sound of Music Day 122: Helen Keller Day 121: The Welcome Back Kotter Theme Song Day 120: Sheldon Cooper Day 119: Having Permission to Make Mistakes Day 118: A Diverse Group of Friends Day 117: Family Traditions Day 116: The Haunting Season Day 115; Life Experience Day 114: Changes Day 113: The Wooly Bear Caterpillar Day 112: The National Anthem Day 111: Parents Who Care Day 110: Good Friends Day 109: My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss Day 108: A.A. Milne QuotesDay 107: Spending Time Wisely Day 106: Parades Day 105: The Peanuts Gang Dancing Day 104: Sharing a Secret Language Day 103: The Electric Company Day 102: Doing the Right Thing Day 101: When Siblings Agree Day 100: Being Optimistic Day 99: Trying Something New Day 98: The Sound of Children on a Playground Day97: Good Advice Day 96: Red and white peppermint candy Day 95: The Soundtrack from the Movie Shrek Day 94: Accepting Change Day 93: True Love Day 92: Camera Phones Day 91: Bicycle Brakes Day 90: HeroesDay 89: The Cricket in Times Square Day 88: The Grand Canyon Day 87: Unanswered Prayers Day 86: Apples Fresh from the Orchard Day 85: Being Human Day 84: Captain Underpants Day 83: The Diary of Anne Frank Day 82: In Cold Blood Day 81: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Day 80: The Outsiders Day 79: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Day 78: The First Amendment Day77: People Who Touch Our Lives Day 76: The Rewards of Parenting Day 75: Improvements Day 74: Family Traditions Day 73: Learning From Our Mistakes Day 72: Live Music Day 71: Sleeping In Day 70: Grover Day 69: A Good Hair Day Day 68: A Sense of Community Day 67: Kindness Day 66: Living in a Place You Love Day 65: Gifts from the Heart Day 64: The Arrival of Fall Day 63: To Kill a Mockingbird Day 62: Green LightsDay 61: My Canine Friends Day 60: Differences Day 59: A New Box of Crayons Day 58: Bookworms Day 57: Being Oblivious Day 56: Three-day Weekends Day 55: A Cat Purring Day 54: Being a Unique Individual Day 53: Children’s Artwork Day 52: Lefties Day 51: The Neighborhood Deer Day 50: Campfires Day 49: Childhood Crushes Day 48: The Words “Miss You” Day 47: Birthday Stories Day 46: Nature’s Hold on Us Day 45: Play-Doh Day 44: First Day of School Pictures Day 43: Calvin and Hobbes Day 42: Appreciative Readers Day 41: Marilyn Monroe’s Best Quote Day 40: Being Silly Day 39: Being Happy Exactly Where You Are Day 38: Proud Grandparents Day 37: Chocolate Chip Cookies Day 36: Challenging Experiences that Make Great Stories Day 35: You Can’t Always Get What You Want Day 34: Accepting the Fog Day 33: I See the Moon Day 32: The Stonehenge Scene from This is Spinal Tap Day 31: Perspective Day 30: Unlikely Friendships Day 29: Good Samaritans Day 28: Am I a Man or Am I a Muppet? Day 27: Shadows Day 26: Bike Riding on Country Roads Day 25: When Harry Met Sally Day 24: Hibiscus Day 23: The Ice Cream Truck Day 22: The Wonderful World of Disney Day 21: Puppy love Day 20 Personal Theme Songs Day 19: Summer Clouds Day 18: Bartholomew Cubbin’s VictoryDay 17: A Royal Birth Day 16: Creative Kids Day 15: The Scent of Honeysuckle Day 14: Clip of Kevin Kline Exploring His MasculinityDay 13: Random Text Messages from My Daughter Day 12: Round Bales of HayDay 11: Water Fountains for Dogs Day 10: The Rainier Beer Motorcycle Commercial Day 9: Four-Leaf Clovers Day 8: Great Teachers We Still RememberDay 7: Finding the missing sock Day 6: Children’s books that teach life-long lessonsDay 5: The Perfect Photo at the Perfect Moment Day 4: Jumping in Puddles Day 3: The Ride Downhill after the Struggle Uphill Day 2: Old Photographs Day 1: The Martians on Sesame Street
Every year, we Americans set aside the fourth Thursday of November to express gratitude for all we have. This year, I have a very long list, and at the top are friends who are smarter than I am, more generous than I am and stronger than I am. I appreciate these friends not only for their gifts but because they challenge me to be a better person.
Just this week, one such friend put a situation into perspective.
We had just attended an event about childhood poverty. I’d played a small part in helping organize the event, and my friend served as a discussion group facilitator. When the event was over, she called me to debrief.
“Here’s my issue,” she said. “We asked participants to brainstorm ideas about how we could address poverty in our community and you know what members of my group did?
“What?” I asked.
“They identified specific strategies for the families struggling with poverty, for community organizations and for schools,” she said. “What no one discussed is what each of us can personally do It’s like they think caring is enough. That will never be enough. We each have to personal responsibility.”
My friend is smarter than I am, and she is absolutely right.
Personal responsibility has become a catch phrase for people who are facing financial and other crises. It is rarely used regarding “the rest of us” who are paying our bills and are able to manage our lives fairly well.
But until children are no longer living in poverty, we are all facing a crisis and we are all personally responsible.
Yet so many of us want to point fingers and place responsibility on others.
As my friend noted, we have to stop.
We all need to look in the mirror and ask “What can I do?” Not what can my community do? What can my agency do? What can my school do? Or even what can my church do?
Handing responsibility to others is often easier than handing it to ourselves, and this Thanksgiving I am grateful for my friend, and all the other individuals, who truly understand that. When more and more people begin to take such personal responsibility, only then will we be able to truly begin to solve the complex issues of child poverty.
And when that happens, we will have even more reason for thanks giving.
There are times when I just want to scream out loud. But that doesn’t necessarily solve any problems, so sometimes I choose to scream through writing.
Now is one of those times.
While I can’t emphasize enough that I believe in the First Amendment, that everyone is entitled to their own opinions and that everyone should be allowed to express them, there are times when those opinions just seem so off base.
Take, for example, the number of people who complain about others who take “handouts” and/or boast that they have never done so themselves. They often say this as though they are morally superior.
Personally, I’ve received more handouts than I ever deserved. And this Thanksgiving, I am so grateful for them.
The handouts I’ve received may not have been in the form of government assistance for low-income individuals, but they are the reason I haven’t had to depend on such help when I’ve hit a rough patch.
I am grateful that I received the handout of a mother who didn’t abuse alcohol or drugs and had a healthy diet while she was pregnant. Her decisions provided me with a giant advantage in life. I was born healthy and had parents who ensured I maintained my health. Too many people start life without that handout and spend the rest of their life trying to catch up.
I am grateful for the handout of parents who were concerned about my education from the day I was born. They shared their love of the written word by reading out loud to me. They didn’t set me in front of a television so they could go on with the lives they wanted. They provided me with books, crayons and the opportunity to express myself. Too many people spent the first three years of their lives without any of those handouts – handouts that greatly influence their ability to learn and process information.
I am grateful for the handout of being a child that never knew what it was like to be truly scared or cold or hungry. There was always food on the table, in the cupboard, in the refrigerator and in the freezer. I never went to bed afraid that there wouldn’t be heat in the morning or that I wouldn’t have a coat to wear in cold weather. Too many people grow up without the simple handout of having those basic needs met – which creates a completely different perspective of how the world works.
I am grateful for the handout of parents who made their children and their family a priority. I always felt wanted. I always felt like I belonged and I always felt like I helped make my family complete. I was never told I was a mistake. I was never told I was a burden. And I was never told that my parents’ life would be easier if I wasn’t around. Just as importantly, I wasn’t hit, kicked burned or assaulted in my own home. Too many people grow up abused and wondering why they even exist. The handout of love is powerful, and without it, people often seek affection and attention in the wrong places and in the wrong ways.
I am grateful for the handout of having parents who wanted me to succeed and who demonstrated self-discipline and good decision-making skills. They required my brother and me to take responsibility for our actions. They also ensured that we were exposed to a wide variety of opportunities and activities. They were never in jail, they never dragged us into unsafe locations and they didn’t bring a variety of unsavory characters into our home. Too many people grow up without the handout of positive role models. Their parents or caretakers or community members are stumbling through life attempting to meet their own needs without even considering those of their children. Our ability to make choices and understand consequences is a skill… and like all skills it needs to be demonstrated and practiced.
I am grateful for the handouts I received that were beyond human control. I’m not dyslexic, I’m not disabled and I’m not disadvantaged. I am surrounded by people who can lend a helping hand. When I faced a real emergency, there were always people in my life who had the resources to help me. Too many people are surrounded by people who are facing their own crises and don’t have the ability to help anyone else.
I am truly saddened by people who view poverty as a simple issue. It isn’t.
And I am bothered that some people think life is an even playing field and everyone has equal opportunities. We don’t.
And I worry about the belief that low-income people have flawed characters rather than an unbelievable set of obstacles to overcome.
I agree that there are success stories.There are people who have beaten the odds, overcome horrible situations and gone on to live very productive lives. I am privileged to know such people.
And I also know that somewhere along their life path, they got some handouts – generally in the form of a caring person or persons who wanted to share all they had been given: whether material or spiritual. People who wanted to pay it forward rather than to hold it tight. People who understood the value of offering their hearts and their hands out to others.
On this Thanksgiving, I am not only grateful for the all of the hands that have been held out to me, I am grateful for the role models and heroes who continue to do this for others on a daily basis.
Holding your hands out can be a miracle for others.
Opening your heart to others can be a miracle for you.
I hope everyone has the opportunity to do both this Thanksgiving and into the upcoming holiday season.