Yup. I am. Honest. This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my possessions, for the things I own, for my “stuff.”
In the wake of the many catastrophic events that have occurred in the past several months, due to both natural and man-made disasters, I’ve come to realize how thankful I am for my “things.”
I know this sounds like a paradox, especially at this time of year when we reflect upon what matters most in our lives and give thanks. It is never the stuff we own, but rather the stuff we don’t – family and friends, health, community, relationships, the right to vote – the stuff that matters most. Given the unimaginable losses that hundreds of thousands of people have suffered recently, both locally and nationally, you might think me insensitive. But let me explain.
I had the pleasure of working at a high school in Lawrence for the economically disadvantaged. The students, mostly Dominican, were the poorest of the poor and the kindest of the kind. I am not a teacher, so the best way I could get to know them was to leave a bowl of candy on my desk. Before I let them dive into the bowl, I interrogated them somewhat. I asked them to answer four questions, one of which was, “What are you thankful for?” This is what I consistently heard: “My parents. My family. My teachers. My school. My friends. The fact that I am being given an opportunity to go to college.” Not a single possession was mentioned. Ever. One girl, who I can still see standing over my desk with her beautiful cappuccino-colored skin replied, “I am thankful for the roof over my head.” I am quite certain it is not a fancy roof covering a fancy house and I hope she still has one after the recent Columbia Gas explosions that occurred in her neighborhood destroying several homes.
As one of the poorest cities in the state, Lawrence has very little to begin with. 26% of Lawrence residents live in poverty and the median household income is $36,000. 5% of North Andover residents live in poverty and the median household income is $100,000. 4% of Andover residents live in poverty and the median household income is $135,000. Rich, poor, black, white, Latino – nobody was left unscathed. Life turned on a dime for those residents in the Merrimack Valley on that sunny, second Thursday in September. As I write this blog post, eight weeks after the tragedy, thousands of people still do not have heat, electricity or proper housing.
So when I’m having a bad day, I stop and tell myself, “Get over it! This could have happened to me, but it didn't."
In October, Hurricane Michael hit the Florida panhandle. And it hit hard - much harder than expected, wreaking havoc, wiping out an entire beach community. In the blink of an eye, miles of oceanfront homes and businesses were decimated. Images of Mexico Beach were heartbreaking. Only one home stood, looking out of place sitting on stilts high above the sand along that beachfront, surrounded by the debris and remains of all the other homes that were leveled and in pieces. Thousands were left homeless with only the clothes on their back. Their lives will never be the same and it will take them years to rebuild. Where do they begin? Some lost every thing. I have many things.
And then there are the relentless, historic California wildfires still burning. And the historic flooding in Texas. And Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas. I respect and love her dearly, but when will Mother Nature give us a break?
Over the past few months, whenever I would turn on the television and see those jaw dropping images, my eyes wide open, I would feel a little guilty that I occasionally whine when my day is not going exactly as planned. But my bad days pale in comparison to their unending bad days.
I stop and tell myself, “Get over it! This could have happened to me, but it didn't."
Like death and taxes, there is no escaping both the good times and bad; the ups and downs; the joys and sorrows. And while the downs are not to be minimized, I have experienced nothing that comes close to that of these victims. I have not watched my house, my friends, my family, or my furry friends, float down a river, get washed out to sea, or get crushed beneath a building or a crumbling chimney, like the teen in Lawrence did whose brother attends that high school at which I used to work. I have not watched my house go up in flames or my entire town wiped out. I have not needed to boil water to cook or relax in a hot bath, stand in long and winding lines for food or gas, cook for six on a tiny hot plate, or sleep in the cold - for weeks on end.
So when I’m having a bad day, I stop and tell myself, “Get over it! This could have happened to me, but it didn't.”
As I write, my plumber is here fixing my boiler that is not behaving. It’s like a teenager – moody and unpredictable. My steam heating system turns on when it feels like it, and shuts off when it feels like it. Occasionally, my Fonzie move works. I gently punch the side of the boiler with my fist, and breathe a sigh of relief if I hear that sweet sound of the running motor and the hissing of the heaters once again. In about twelve minutes, the boiler shuts off again.
The plumber has determined the problem. Good. But he needs to order a part. Bad. So the boiler will not be fixed until tomorrow. Ugh. I tell myself it’s going to get very cold as the evening progresses as temps are expected to hit near freezing. So I’ll need to don an extra pair of socks, extra fleece, a scarf, and two extra blankets. Poor me. I will be minorly inconvenienced - for one night.
I remind myself of our neighbors who haven’t had heat or electricity for eight weeks, many of whom are trying to stay warm with a single, small space heater. I stop and tell myself, “It's one night. Get over it!”
This Thanksgiving, as I put things in perspective, I am truly thankful for these possessions: for my temperamental boiler (at least I have heat); for my leaky bathroom faucet (at least I have clean, running water); for my cell phone with an occasional spotty connection (at least I can still communicate); for my oven covered with sticky blueberry drippings from the pie I made last week (at least I have functional gas lines and can actually use my oven to bake).
Yes, this year, I give thanks for these possessions because they afford me the most basic of comforts - like warmth, light, hot water, safety, shelter. Comforts that enormous amounts of people, both locally and nationally, have lost this past year.
And yes, this year I am especially thankful for the roof over my head - even if it’s a little chilly under that roof. I’ve gotten over it!
What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?