Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gratitude and Perspective

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It's because I consider it an equal-opportunity celebration: anyone can participate because ultimately, it's about being grateful. I know the original Thanksgiving story has a dark side, and I know turkeys don't fare well in November, but I love the underlying sentiment and when you really distill it down, it's not about buying or receiving, not about being lucky in love, not about religion, not about being proud to live here, but simply about finding something to be absolutely thankful for and finding others to share it with, whether they're family members, friends, or people in the same place with you at the same time.

I think this is the ninth or tenth year my family has provided desserts for the Thanksgiving celebration at a downtown Resource Center for families affected by AIDS or HIV. I've always asked my students to participate and they've always come through--in the early years my seventh graders baked lopsided cakes. More recently our high school junior Navy ROTC students have been the committed volunteers. Various families have offered their homes as the dessert drop-off sites, and various family members and students and friends have accompanied us to deliver the goods.

The woman who coordinates volunteers for the Center has become a dear friend, though the kind of dear friend we only see once a year. She is a career health educator who has committed much of her free time to the Center. Last November, when we touched base as we always do a few weeks ahead of Thanksgiving, I learned she had spent the year since we saw her last battling life-threatening cancer of her reproductive organs. She had surgery right before Thanksgiving and was looking and feeling weak. I even wondered if we would see her this year. But before I could call her, she left her annual message on our machine asking if we were planning to help, and as always, expressing appreciation and giving us the opportunity to gracefully decline if we weren't "available." When I called her back, so glad to hear her voice, she asked about our daughters before I could inquire about her health. Over the course of our conversation I learned, after so long knowing her, that her not-yet-30-year-old daughter recently suffered a debilitating episode of Multiple Sclerosis and that she has an adult son who is severely developmentally disabled. Still she is thankful for all she has and dedicates time to others outside her family, outside her community, beyond her immediate reach.

And so I am grateful for the rather random relationships we fall into, foster, and which develop into meaning for our lives. I am all the better for knowing this woman who inspires and challenges me. This far outweighs the value of a minivan's worth of desserts.

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