Writing usually comes easily for me, even on difficult topics. Imagine my surprise, then, that writing a piece on thanksgiving and gratitude has been difficult.
As I tried to reflect on the past year, and hopes for the coming one, I find myself qualifying and discounting my initial thoughts. And this in a week where we again see tragic, hatred motivated mass shootings. It is difficult, and I imagine you may feel similarly.
I am grateful for a warm home, safe and secure, but I feel guilty for the millions of people around the world who have been displaced by war and climate change. Closer to home, I walk outside with gloves, a large coat, and a warm scarf and I see people huddled in corners trying to sleep, knowing that the shelters are full and there is nowhere for people to go.
These global issues exist in part because of the systems that ensure I have a safe home able to be kept at whatever temperature I choose. The local issues exist in part on account of complex structures above our paygrade and beyond our control.
I am grateful for a generous community, but I struggle with the emails and communications I receive and hear of from my nonprofit colleagues, where our desire to help the greatest amount of people in need is under attack because it doesn’t align with some individuals’ specific visions.
I am grateful that my children receive a great public education, but I see too many pundits and politicians who want to fund schools inequitably and control the topics and depth of learning necessary for a complex and challenging world.
I am grateful for the opportunity to be a partner and a father, but I see many broken homes where children are put in situations without safety or support. And I know that it is not something I can change but it still taints my ability to focus on my privileges.
I could easily go on identifying the internal positive blessings held in conflict with external contradictions. In fact, it feels like our society today is nearly exclusively interested in the “but” and “however” part of reflection. It does nobody any good, however, to only focus on the imperfections of “them” and not the blessings of “us.”
Shortly before writing this essay, I was in a meeting with two local pastors about the shortage of shelter space for our homeless brother and sister neighbors. One of the gentlemen mentioned he had been encouraged some time back to not think in terms of “but,” which sets issues against one another, but to acknowledge them all with “and.”
So, we can approach the tension between wanting to do more to call out the injustices we see and enjoying the little luxuries we feel entitled to because we worked hard to achieve them.
An invitation, perhaps, if I may. It is OK for you to enjoy the little pleasures and opportunities to spend time with your family this Thanksgiving and into the end of the year religious and secular holidays and gatherings. Give yourself permission … AND take moments where you can in your prayers and reflections before dinner and in conversation to acknowledge the absolute blessing and benefit. AND do not forget how close you could be to greater challenges.
Perhaps you can still remember a time when the world was a little tougher for you. Cleave to that memory in all that you do and make sure you use your privileges and spaces of opportunity to widen the path for the next person behind you. Do not forget what it felt like if you were ever hungry, if you were unsure if you could pay your bills, when your relationship dissolved. This is where your empathy comes from.
Then, set in motion a plan for dedicating the coming year, not moments in the year, to helping others in small, everyday ways. Kindness and generosity do not only need to come from the guilt that can distract us from rejuvenation. This is how we will change the world for the better, through steady work, not singular moments.
I am grateful to live in a safe, warm home AND I know others do not have the opportunity so I will involve myself in finding solutions and supporting those people and organizations who work towards solving housing instability.
I am grateful to live in a generous community AND some organizations align with my understanding of how solutions are achieved, so I will support those which bring forth equity and justice as I understand it and share their work with friends so that those organizations thrive.
I am grateful that my children receive an excellent education in part because I have supplemental resources to support them AND I know that taxes contribute to an educated society that allows us all to prosper, so I will advocate for fair distribution of resources regardless of where a family lives.
Remember, you are loved and there are others whom you love. You are not alone in the struggle. If you feel that you are alone, reach out. The holidays can be difficult for so many of us because of the memory of past losses of family and friends. AND in all things, if they are not your struggle, please be gentle around others whose lot in life may not be as comfortable as your own.