It is Thanksgiving 2018. While the holiday might be full of images of plenty around a long table surrounded by family united in love and gratitude, for those who do not quite share this picturesque picture, it becomes a bitter reminder of loss, marginalization, and sadness. There is nothing like the holidays to bring the have-nots closer to the cliff of despair.
I keep reciting a secret prayer in my mind: “Lord keep those in the throes of despair from not taking their life this holiday season.” For the vulnerable, the holiday cuts deeper. It forces them to register in a material way, what they lack.
Thanksgiving reminds me in a very stark way of the deprivation of love, support, and the brotherhood of despair for those who will not be able to sit down at a dinner table surrounded by those they love. I think about the foster kids, the inner city youth, those without families through death or divorce, the single mothers, the spinsters and the perennial bachelors, the sick in soul, and the sick in hospital, those who trade the day for the wages of poverty. Thanksgiving is a wake up call for those who have little left to give. Based on the statistics, many people in this country while they might have material goods (and some less so) lack the love, the connection, the relationships that make life worth living.
A friend who is grieving the loss of her mother, texted me, “How does one survive the holidays? They are so painful.” Here’s my prescription:
-force yourself to be grateful, even if it is for the struggles in your life. They were put there to shape you. Gratefulness has a way of changing our brain chemistry so that we feel better about our life.
-get out of yourself. No matter how lacking your situation, bet your bottom dollar there are others who are worse off than you.
-volunteer. Your time and energy can be put to better use serving those who have less. Soup kitchens always need an extra pair of hands
-embrace your sadness. Sometimes it is better to suffer through the sadness than to avoid it. Just let it run its course like a cold. Eventually it will break and little things will start making you feel better—the sun on your face, the cup of hot cocoa,
-take care of your physical self. Eat right, exercise, take a long walk
-express your grief. Do whatever it takes to take the pain and make it beautiful. Write a poem, make a painting, dance with sorrow as your partner.
-pray and meditate. Believe against all odds and hope against hope that there is a purpose to all this.
-if the burden becomes too much, seek help. There are many lifelines that can connect you to services you might need.
Let me end this little meditation with the words of monk Father David Steindl Rast: “It is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” As such gratefulness becomes a spiritual practice. It is why we in the Christian tradition take the beginning of the week and congregate to take part in a ritual whose etymological root means “thanks or gratitude,” the eucharist. The eucharist, or the “good” “grace”, signals that we are graced indeed to be present. To be alive is a blessing in itself. Whether you believe the mystery of the Holy Transubstantiation and the coming down of the Holy Spirit or not, the power is in giving thanks for the entire thing, this thing we call life, both in its agony and brutality and in its beauty and compassion.