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SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – The other day I was over at the Shrewsbury Stop and Shop, my daily home away from home, picking up some extra turkeys for a local shelter. While I was rummaging through the case looking for a couple of 20-24 pounders, and finally finding them buried under some smaller ones, I found myself standing next to a woman with her two young sons, also going through the bin flipping over each bird, and scouring the tags. Since I’m a nosy chatterbox, as those of you who know me will surely attest, I commented that if she was looking for the twenty pounders, they were tucked over into that corner. She kind of surprised me a bit when she said there was no way she could afford a twenty pounder, and adding that she was actually trying to find something smaller than the 12-14’s that might be cheaper, and then she was going to just use some extra stuffing and powdered potatoes to “fill up the family.” “Not a whole lot to be thankful for this year,” she said, and she was “lucky to have any turkey at all.” It was really early in the morning, and my mind wasn’t yet warmed up for the day, and the matter of fact way she said it, to a total stranger, really caught me off guard. With her kids still rummaging through the bins and a bit out of earshot, I told her that St. Anne’s usually was able to help out with dinners and food for people who needed some help, but she said that she had never been to such a place and that she’d rather just make due that ask for help. She just sounded so sad.
Anyway, in the end, I told her that I helped run a local charity that provided for people in need in the Shrewsbury area, which is true, and that I wanted to buy her family their turkey this year. She refused at first, but I basically told her that I wasn’t taking no for an answer, pressed two twenty dollar bills in her hand, said Happy Thanksgiving, and scampered off with my cart before she could argue about it. Now I’ve been helping out with food donations in Shrewsbury for a long time, but I couldn’t help but wonder, though somewhat in amazement, that right here next to you and I in the supermarket, there are people that are just so forlorn over their situation, that they truly feel they have nothing worth giving any thanks for. After all, in even the bleakest of situations, surely there must be some light, whether in the form of good health, the love of our children, or the fact that we have the joy of living in a nation where we can go to bed at night feeling safe and free.
As we celebrate this weekend, and join together with the ones we hold dear, I challenge each of my loyal readers to go out this week and commit just one random act of kindness. I don’t care what it is, but know that if you reach out and do one little thing for someone else, it will truly be giving thanks for all the wonders that you have. Perhaps today, when you make that last trip to the grocery store, stop at the service desk and buy five $10 gift cards. As you walk around in the furor of the pre-turkey-day rush, be just a little bit more aware of those around you. Find someone who looks like they may need a hand, perhaps someone elderly who toiled for 50 years to make this community what it is today, or maybe a young couple scouring the prices on everything before placing it in their cart. Just walk by them, hand them one of the gift cards, say Happy Thanksgiving, and keep walking. When you’re lined up on Black Friday morning, let someone else use your chair, maybe refrain from tackling a fellow shopper over a $20 CD player, or drive through the Mass Pike toll or Dunkin drive-through, and pay for the person behind you – really anything that will spread the love.
I’m a firm believer in the fact that truly “giving thanks” is only possible if you share those feelings of sincere gratitude with those around you. For many, it’s been a long, tough year for one reason or another. For some it’s been financial, others medical, or just personal. Some have dealt with the loss of a loved one, the disaster of a storm, or perhaps seen a life’s dream go down in flames. I’ve faced some challenges with my family as well, and have no doubt I will face more in the year to come, but we all have, and I know for sure, that most others have had it far worse. As the Indian proverb laments, “I pitied myself for having no shoes, until I met a man that had no feet.” To give of yourself is truly the greatest joy of all, and that which separates us from the other species on the earth, all of whom focus solely on how much they can consume, with no intellectual capacity to put their own needs secondary to those around them.
As you sit down to celebrate with your loved ones this week, do talk for a moment about the deeper sense of the Thanksgiving holiday. Most of all, instill upon your children from the earliest possible age that spirit of self-sacrifice that is so precious, yet becoming more and more rare as time goes on. These children truly are our future. I had the opportunity to read a letter the other day, written by a pretty wonderful person here in Shrewsbury, and a great friend of many years. I won’t embarrass them by naming them here, but I’ve alway admired this persons uniquely eloquent ability to speak in public, without a script, and move people in a very deep and unique way. She was speaking in this letter about volunteerism among local youth, and to paraphrase her brilliant words said, “….some say that leaders are born that way. It may be, however that children are nurtured in a family that cares passionately about helping others. ….At some point, the mature and self-confident child must recognize their ability to influence those around them….and make helping others an integral part of their own life.” It seems so logical, so simple, and yet so intuitively brilliant in scope. We all engrain our children from birth with a sense of values and morals, and an understanding of how we as their parents approach our role in society. Then it’s up to them to decide where they will take those beliefs, and how they will use them to shape the world around them. Children will usually become that which they see practiced in the home. I know that was the case for me. My parents had very little, and my dad often worked three jobs to put food on the table, but there was always food, and if there was food for us, then their approach was that there was food for others. I can vividly remember my mom taking me with her to volunteer at events in our community to help those in need. Oddly, by todays standards, we probably were “in need” ourselves…but others, my mom and dad assured me, needed help far more than we did. They carried those standards with them for their whole lives, and still do, and it was from them, and from my wonderful wife, that I learned compassion for others, and a sense of personal responsibility for the world as a whole.
From my whole family to yours, may you have a Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving, may you be surrounded by those you love, and may we all look forward to a year living in peace.