Thursday, November 28, 2013

For Thanksgiving: A Reflection on Gratitude

I know it is probably trite to reflect on gratitude on Thanksgiving.  It seems that we should be reflecting on gratitude all year round and not just wait for November or even just one day in November to be promptly followed by a gluttonous amount of eating and shopping.  So often, many of us go through the motions of gratitude and thanks on Thanksgiving while planning our trip to the mall the next day or, if you are like me, being very self righteous about not shopping on Black Friday or Cyber Monday ... but I am feeling different on this Thanksgiving eve.

This year I am sitting in a place of deep gratitude.  My sister and I are connecting on a deeper level than we ever have before.  Thanks to her and her husband, I was able to attend the Choice Center Personal Development and Leadership training.  My Discovery and Breakthrough weekends were opportunities for me to be stretched beyond what I thought possible.  It was one of the hardest and most painful things I have done along with one of the most liberating and joyful.  Out of it my inner walls of fear, insecurity and anger have been broken down.  I know, though, that without all that came before these two weekends, I could not have had the experience I did. The walls came down because I had been doing the work long before Choice Center ever entered my life. Choice Center does powerful work and I am grateful to the staff, trainers, coaches and the participants who made those two weekends so amazing. So I am grateful this year to Choice Center for its work and how it has transformed my sister, my brother in law and me.  All of us are more open and more committed to creating deep and authentic relationships.

I am also grateful for the hard things, the things that helped build those walls.  Not because those things should have happened - many of them are things no one should ever experience.  I am grateful because I know that the hard things, the hard times do as much to shape us as the joyful ones.  I have re-discovered that grief and joy are intrinsically bound.  We cannot fully appreciate life until we appreciate death.  We cannot fully appreciate joy until we have appreciated sorrow.  Otherwise if there is no grief, no sorrow then we are very tempted to take the people in our lives for granted.

I also know that my hard times have made me a more empathetic person.  As my family has struggled financially over the last year, I have a new appreciation for those who do not have the privileges I do. Gifts such as people who have had the means and willingness to help us along with the education, skills and opportunities that will enable us to build a more abundant life.  The reality is that I can appreciate people who live with poverty every day in a way I never would have by simply reading about it.  Poverty and scarcity breed fear, isolation and shame deepened by the culture of this country.  That those who don't have, don't have because that is what they deserve and that those that have, have somehow earned it. I can never again talk about "welfare queens" and people "scamming the system" or say that "people are lazy and don't want to work."  People want, long for, need work.  What they don't need is work that is demeaning, inadequate, looked down upon.  How many of us look down on people in certain jobs?  Cleaning people, garbage collectors, the people at Walmart, fast food, anyone who works with their hands.  Yet what would happen if no one did those jobs? What would happen if there was no one to do the work we demean?  What if we honored all work?  What if all people made a living wage? What if all people had health insurance and care? What if people didn't have to work multiple jobs just too eek out a living?

Today is Thanksgiving and I remember when the only places open on that day were a few restaurants, hotels and the 7-11 and of course, emergency services like police, fire and medical people. Now we can begin our Black Friday shopping on Thanksgiving.  Instead of focusing on time with family, friends and giving thanks we can just add another day of shopping to the list.  The saddest thing of all is the people who have to work on Thanksgiving so that others can shop without having to wait for Friday.  Now working on Thanksgiving is nothing new.  My great-grandfather Manuel Sequeira was the window dresser for the City of Paris department store in San Francisco.  His job was to oversee the set up of the huge Christmas tree that was in the window facing Union Square.  He was never home on Thanksgiving because he was busy readying the store for Friday and the start of the Christmas shopping season (remember when Christmas carols and shopping didn't start until after Thanksgiving instead of before Halloween). Of course police, fire, military hospital employees all know about working on Thanksgiving.  Yet overall the idea was that Thanksgiving was truly about being with friends and family - not about more shopping!  We long for deep connection with others, we long for rest, we long to come home to ourselves.  We long for Sabbath and Sabbath cannot be bought!  Sabbath means to stop and to stop we don't need anything at all! We just need to do it.

So this Thanksgiving be with your friends and your family.  Don't shop at least not on Thanksgiving itself! Enjoy just being with those you love. Take time to remember those who you love that are no longer with you - parents, grandparents, children, friends, aunts, uncles, cousins.  Remember them!  Tell stories about them!  Make their spirits present in the room and most important pass their stories down to the next generation!  Also look around the room or the table this Thanksgiving.  Take time to stop and really look into the eyes of those you love.  Just look! How long has it been since you have just looked into the eyes of the ones you love?  I assure you it is one of the most powerful gifts we can give to one another - to look deeply into each other's eyes and truly see the other! Then offer your thanks!  Go around the table and let each person say at least one thing they are grateful for on this day...if they can talk they can offer gratitude! Don't forget to thank all those who are working on Thanksgiving - all those who would much rather be celebrating with friends and family. Also remember those who are alone; who have no one to look deeply into their eyes and say I love you.  The day is called Thanksgiving - so give thanks and practice giving!

So on this day of thanks I offer thanks to all of you who read and share my blog with others!  It is as much an act of giving as it is a labor of love from me to you!

May you and your family have an amazing Thanksgiving!