Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

A Dominican sister I know shared this reflection with me and gave me permission to share it with all of you:

How do you give thanks? Not only to ask ourselves, ‘what are we grateful for?’ but also to be mindful of how we express our gratitude seems a good thing as we anticipate the Thanksgiving Day tomorrow. As I invite you and myself to be with the question, may I share with you a story or the person that led me to the question?

It was Kenneth. Kenneth is presently going through a radiation therapy for his colon cancer. Most people, without knowing him, would label him homeless. And he was; and perhaps he is. Now days, he earns just enough by selling Berkeley’s homeless street newspaper to supplement his medical cost and pay for $250/month room in Oakland. He makes sure he looks clean and his fingernails cut short and clean. When you ask him how he is, he always responds with, “I’m blessed” and that with such conviction in his eyes and a kind smile spreading all over his face. And, so he answers even when he can barely stand and move due to the radiation treatment that leaves him weak.

Last night on my way home, happy to see him again, I sat down to chat a bit with him. During our conversation, he had to rush to a public bathroom, staggering across the street full of cars. When he returned, his usual cheerful face was filled with frustration and sadness. The memories of the misunderstandings and the mistreatments he receives for being homeless and for not being able to control his bowl movement had rushed to his mind, leaving him feeling desolate. When he had an accident on the bus, more than once, he had been asked to get off the bus by the bus driver because he stunk. The thought of being judged as uncaring, incapable, and lazy because he sat on the sidewalk to sell the newspaper pained him. What pained him more was the feeling that he had nothing to give back for the gratitude he felt to those who have been good to him. When people put money into the cup, he offers his newspaper, making sure it’s a clean one. But, many, for different reasons, decline to take it, thereby quite unconsciously robbing him of an opportunity for him to say thank you.

We were in the midst of such conversation, tears running both on his cheeks and mine, when a young woman approached and squatted down to put some money into his cup. He offered his newspaper. She gently refused. Softly, I whispered to her, “Please take one. It’s his gift to you.” She then offered a cup of tea she had in her hand to Kenneth. He can’t drink soda, coffee, chocolate or tea because of his condition. But, he looked at her with a long pause and asked whether she had gotten that just for him. She said yes. At that, he reached for it, saying, “I’ll drink it then. Thank you very much!” He graciously accepted the gift, albeit knowing what it will do to him. To honor her intent by accepting the gift was his way of saying, “Thank You!” And, he did more than accept it. Because she had gotten it for him, he did try to drink it, which rushed him again across the street…

How do we say, “Thank You” to the Giver? On this Thanksgiving Day and on each of our days, may we cherish not only the gift but the givers and the Giver! Thereby, may the Love that gave us life and the loves that sustain us remain alive in us. May our beings proclaim how blessed we are. May our living be the blessing for one another.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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