“Always assume the best in people.” This is something my mom told me often – and she was absolutely right. Over the course of the last few weeks, three different individuals have made an impression on me in the very best way. They have expanded my understanding of the word “thanksgiving” in a manner that I didn’t think was possible. My encounters with these folks was unplanned and organic thus the impact was even more significant. On this national holiday which Americans have been celebrating since 1621 – I’d like to offer my own perspective. Thanksgiving is more than just a day – it is a way of life, an attitude and a pathway to lasting happiness and peace as evidenced by the folks I recently met along life’s journey. Keep reading to find out what a T driver, an inmate and a religious sister all have in common.
He was holding the building door for me. We had both parked our cars in the garage underneath the building and he saw me struggling with a mound of groceries which balanced precariously from my small pushcart. “Thanks so much.” I said. He responded with a tired smile in a disheveled looking T uniform (T is our subway, for non Boston folks). I could tell that he probably had just gotten off a long shift. We chatted by the elevator and I learned that he had an injured back. I commented that driving the T must be tough with a bad back to which he responded, “It’s okay, I have a good job for which I’m thankful. Once I rest up, I’ll be good to go for another day. Not everyone can say that.” I was blown away by his resolve knowing the toll that back pain takes on a person. This kind soul managed to smile, show kindness to a stranger and give thanks for his blessings amidst real pain in his own life. Inspiring.
Even more amazing was the testimony of an incarcerated woman which I recently heard at Mass inside a maximum security prison. During the homily, the celebrant invited all of the women present to share something they were grateful for. I sat in awe and amazement as the inmates each declared something or someone for which they are grateful. One woman’s words in particular caused my eyes to fill with tears as I considered her current circumstances. “I am grateful to wake each morning and enjoy my cup of coffee while watching the news. I am also thankful to live in this great country where I can worship freely by participating in this Mass each week. Despite my circumstances, I have much to give thanks for.” Whoa…. In today’s materialistic society, this type of testimony flies high above the noise and chaos caused by individualism and the like, and serves as an incredible example for all of us who take any good and comfortable thing in our lives for granted. Walking out of the prison that day I thought, “Sometimes we have to descend into the unknown, seemingly dark places in life in order to rediscover the truth which leads us back to the light, illuminating the path of goodness ahead.”
Finally, I received a much needed “spiritual shot in the arm” thanks to a recent presentation by a gifted Sister of St. Joseph. Her talk to our women’s group aimed to teach us how to better be in relationship with God. There is so much I could share about her presentation but there was one particular line which really stuck with me. With calmness and love, she shared, “I cannot dance, O Lord, unless YOU lead me.” This line was actually written hundreds of years ago by a 13th century mystic but Sister uses it often to create a vision for how we are called to live our lives daily – open to God’s plan, rather than our own. This reminder was so simple, yet so powerful for me. How often in life do we try to “take the lead” with the result being less than stellar? In Philippians 4:6-7, God has promised us peace -as we are called to live a life of gratitude. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God that transcends all understanding will guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.”
At your Thanksgiving table this year, perhaps you might reflect on these three incredible people. Allow the faith of the inmate, the hope of the T driver and the love of the religious sister to propel you forward into a state of living gratitude. After all, thanksgiving is more thank just an annual holiday. Happy Thanksgiving to all.