On Gratitude, and Giving Back

free-thanksgiving-wallpaper-06I know I’m a week early for a Thanksgiving-themed post, but the past few days have had me thinking a lot about what gratitude means to me, in a world so full of cruelty, violence, and sadness.

Let me first just say: Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. There is food and family and friends. There is pie and wine and binge-eating and carb-loading. There is music and laughter and impromptu games of touch football and chilly walks in the woods. These are all things I love. But sometimes I wonder if all the food and fun doesn’t distract us from what Thanksgiving is about.

I’m not really talking about Pilgrims and Native Americans (although I recently learned that the First Thanksgiving probably featured eel as a main course…Yum?). I’m talking about being grateful for the things we busy, self-absorbed, attention-challenged First-World human beings rarely take the time to think about, let along express our gratitude for. In 1621, a feast was held to celebrate a good harvest and the sharing of knowledge between two disparate people. These days, what does the feast stand for? Does gorging ourselves on stuffing and pie really express our gratitude for all the things we own and the people we love and the lives we experience?

I know that I do not give thanks for my life often enough. It is too easy to look at my life and think about the things I don’t have, or the things I have not yet accomplished. To rue the mistakes I’ve made, without celebrating the good things I have done. To fear an uncertain future instead of looking forward to a future teeming with opportunity. But I have so much to be grateful for. The basics: my health, physical and mental; a pantry full of food; a roof over my head. And then the not-so-basics: family and friends who love me; a passion for my career; a great marriage. My life is so full of wonderful things, and in this huge, complicated, violent world, so many people have barely a fraction of what I have.

Next week, while we Americans are all feasting and celebrating, there will still be Syrian refugees asleep in European train stations, not knowing where their next meals will come from, let alone when they will have a place to call home again. There will still be Beirutis and Parisians and Nigerians mourning the aftermaths of bombings spurred by hatred. There will still be homeless American veterans wracked with mental illness unable to get the support they deserve. Humans without food. Humans without shelter. Humans suffering.

This is our world. It is ugly. It is beautiful beyond words. It is ours.

Ours.

I don’t intend this post to take away anyone’s joy or pleasure in good times with family and friends. Thanksgiving begins the holiday season, a wonderful time bright with twinkling lights and warm with cheer and laughter. But as we feast at our plentiful tables and sip our eggnog and unwrap our presents, perhaps we can also find the time to be truly grateful. Grateful for our families and our wealth, be that material or immaterial. Grateful to be alive, here in our wonderful, terrible, imperfect world.

And maybe we can also find it within ourselves to give back to this world. To foster peace in our communities. To treat our fellow humans with love and respect. To help the needy. To feed the hungry. And to remember, most importantly, that we’re all in this together.

If you have spare time, money, clothes or food, consider donating them to those with less to be grateful for this holiday season. If you’re not sure where to start, visit Charity Navigator or Volunteer Match for ideas about ways you can give back.

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