Thanksgiving in Jail

So everybody's doing this 30 Days of Thankfulness thing or whatever. I made it ten whole days before giving up, which is personal progress as far as I'm concerned.

And part of me, the grumpy part who's writing this post right now, is a skosh cynical about the whole thing.

 Funny Seasonal Ecard: November...The month where people who have complained on Facebook for the past 11 months become thankful for 30 days.

I mean, how effective can compulsory facebook posts be in expressing genuine gratitude?

Turns out, pretty dang effective. I've witnessed some real growth and healing take place over the last month, as those typically predisposed to posting selfies (note self) took a break to call out friends, family, teachers and mentors for their love and support. A month full of shout outs and encouragements. A month to combat the narcissism and entitlement of the "I deserve now!" generation. A month to appreciate what we do have instead of obsessing over what we do not. A full month to shift our focus from the naught, from the black hole which blots out the heart and insatiably feeds on possession and attention, to the holy, the blessing, the gift of grace.  

Even if it's small, even if it's largely ineffectual for most participants, this whole experiment still stands a chance to cultivate more tender, gracious spirits in a handful of us. That's gotta be worthwhile. What right have I to doubt the sincerity of those attempting to practice gratitude anyway?

But, speaking as someone who failed ten days in, it isn't easy (as nothing worthwhile is). Gratitude doesn't come naturally to most of us. It must be practiced. It must be intentional. And for me it took a different catalyst to really drive the point home.

I know what really flipped the switch for me was the time I spent over the last two days with those who have it a lot worse. Last night I was fortunate enough to help out with a Thanksgiving event at Hosea Youth Services in Eugene (really I just showed up and ate, and cleaned a little at the end). There I got to interact with young people who live on the streets. They smiled, shot pool, and ate. We all played bingo together. But at the end of the night I went home to my roof and food and family and bed while they had to survive the night out in the cold, or shoot up to escape it. 

Then I spent this morning at work with the juvy kids, the ones doomed to muddle through the holiday forcibly separated from their families. They behaved well enough but the melancholy was tangible. Or maybe it was grief. Either way I just about suffocated on it (sometimes my empathic boundaries become too thin and my own emotions get enmeshed with others'). Whatever sympathy I felt for them, though, paled in comparison to their own pain. I know that. For the second time in twenty four hours I was reminded I don't have it so bad in the scheme of things.

So I guess the gist of this whole thing is the little but important reminder that you have to appreciate the blessings in your life, even if they're small, or the bad stuff will swallow you up. And if you can't see the good, try for a little perspective. It's hard to feel thankful when so much is going wrong, but it's harder to stay bitter when you look at all the love around you and utter a quiet, breathy "thanks."

Finally: thank you takes humility. It requires genuflection to the Forces that Bless (let's call them God). And it is the surest way to experience joyful, fulfilled life.

"Thanks is the prayer of relief that help was on the way. ... It can be [the] pettiest, dumbest thing, but it could also be that you get the phone call that the diagnosis was much, much, much better than you had been fearing... The full prayer, and its entirety, is: Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you. But for reasons of brevity, I just refer to it as Thanks.

"It's amazement and relief that you caught a break; that your family caught a break; that you didn't have any reason to believe that things were really going to be OK, and then they were and you just can't help but say thank you."

Anne Lamott - Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers

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