Tag Archives: Gratitude

The Giving Trees

With acknowledgement to author Shel Silverstein who gave us the classic children’s book, The Giving Tree, I use the title here to consider two “giving trees” which are  reaching an end of sharing their extraordinary gifts.  And while my musings here are premature- neither of the two are yet completely gone- I cannot help but reflect on their importance, their meaning and their impacts, not only upon me, but on the world in which live.

Northeastern Iowa, where I live, is home to many emblems of rugged survival.  The high river bluffs of the driftless region, the forest cover overlaying the limestone beds of ancient geologic formation, and the burr oak trees of those woodlands, all stand as watchmen against the march of time and evolution.  The oaks, in particular, with their gnarly limbs and diminutive acorns, are omnipresent here,  bookmarks of an earlier age, a time before settlements and agriculture and highways.  I have come to deeply admire them, for both their arboreal beauty as well as their symbolism of a time that was somehow better.

The oak at the north end of the college campus here has enjoyed its own history and prominence.  It has graced a hillside there since the very earliest days of the school, likely gaining no notice in its fledgling years as first a shoot and then little more than a sapling.  But as the burr oaks are wont to do, it  survived.  It  stood by as settlers migrated to this area to farm and as educators traveled here to teach and preach.  It withstood the winds and the winters of the Oneota Valley, and the inexorable march of settlement and development of the territory.  It became a visible boundary of the college, a sentinel to the people and histories that emerged from that place.  And it continued to grow.

Over time, the oak commanded attention, as an imposing tower at the north end.  A  building was built in its shadow.  A road passed under its limbs.  Students sat beneath it, considering the deepest questions of  our lives, while contemplating the directions of their own.   In more recent years, an entire native grass savannah and rain garden became cultivated around it, to show it off, call attention to its prairie heritage and to reclaim a piece of what once was: a prairie oak savannah.  It steadied us, was a visual touchstone to certainty and continuity, and embodied a needed constancy.

Last year, in the bloom of Spring, nearly half of the burr oak failed to leaf out.  Arborists attempted some treatments, but with no effect.  The tree was reaching the end of its service and accompaniment.  Last week, the tree was taken down.

There remains a wide space in the savannah where the tree’s umbrella once shielded deer and fox, birds and learners alike.  A stump remains for now, chronicling the 125 year life of what was a fixture of the prairie.  For now, I can still walk to the base and sit upon what remains.  The world may not notice its absence.  But I do.

Concurrent with the loss of a great tree is the impending departure of a colleague in Nicaragua.  Ligia Gutierrez will end her consulting role with Winds of Peace Foundation in March, not so much in retirement as in opening herself to the next possibilities in a world which she has so richly served already.

Ligia has served as consultant for Winds of Peace, particularly with regard to the circumstances of the Indigenous people of Nicaragua, as well as working with women’s groups in helping them to discover their collective and individual voices.  To state here that she will be missed is an absurdity, because it does not begin to tell the story of this remarkable individual.

She is a child of the revolution, a committed and activist member of the Sandinista vision of a country free of the dictatorship and inequality that had fouled the country’s circumstances for generations.  She is a psychologist by training, a philosopher in practice, a teacher of holistic and cooperative living that extends far beyond social norms and legal statutes.  Her work is defined by the closeness of the relationships she creates: she is a mother to the youth, an intimate friend to the women, a friendly-but-persistent agitator within a still-machismo culture, a persistent prospector for equal rights and respect, both within the law and within the heart.  For me personally, she has been a Nica mentor, providing context and perspective that has helped me better understand the history and culture in which the Foundation works.  She is a student of physical and spiritual health.  She is a friend.

Ligia is also the source of one of my greatest frustrations in my Nica experiences: I have never been able to speak with her without the voice of a translator.  We have never been able to exchange thoughts and ideas directly with one another, thereby greatly reducing the interactions which might have educated me in untold ways.  My regret over this is a palpable wound that does not heal.

Like the burr oak on the prairie, Ligia has given of herself over a lifetime of service to ideas and others beyond herself.  Though small in physical stature, she is a powerhouse.  She is one of those rare individuals of the universe, seeing both the complexity and the beauty of the whole and striving to manifest it.  That personality, that persona, is what draws the rest of us toward her, for our own sakes.

And like the burr oak, the seeds which she has planted- ideas, self-regard, respect, justice- will far outlive her active service.  Hers is a testament that branches across generations and shelters the hopes of those in need of wisdom and  love.  And like a strong oak suddenly gone, her absence will leave both a gaping space and a magnificent legacy.

The removal of the burr oak tree did not elicit notice even in the local newspaper.  Ligia’s retirement will not be the stuff of international news or perhaps even local notice.  Their respective “graduations” are but the latest examples of the ongoing stream of life.  But they are to be missed.  The beauty, the lessons, the lives that they modeled are gifts for which I will be always grateful….

 

 

Another Voice

The following is an imagined letter from a rural farmer in Nicaragua to those of us in the developed North.  During this holiday time of year in the North, I have wondered how a peasant producer might regard our practices at Thanksgiving and Christmas, in light of realities of many in the global South to exist on less than $2 a day.  

I bring you warm greetings from Nicaragua!  I say warm greetings not only for saludos! but also because the temperatures here have been very warm, especially for this time of year.  Do you have high temperatures in the North?  We know that climate change is happening everywhere, but it seems like maybe it is worse for our countries in CentroAmerica.  They say that many of you do not think that it is real, but I do not believe that.

Our rainfall was plentiful this year.  In most areas it was satisfactory, but in other regions it was too much and the extra rainfall has hurt our plantings.  We are worried about this because in addition to the wet conditions, we are very concerned about the markets.  We have been discouraged by what we are told the markets will pay.  Also, now the so-called “free market” and the policy of CAFTA (do you know this agreement?) will include farm products with prices that make it impossible for small producers like me to compete.  With or without the rains, I am worried that our harvest cannot be sold at a good price.  I think this CAFTA may be a good thing for you in Estados Unidos, but it has created problems for my family.

Like you, we have just completed an election season!  My son is there in your country.  He is a laborer in North Dakota in the oil fields there.  He tells me that he thinks the election here in Nicaragua has brought a sadness to our people because the candidates did not tell the truth and there was much bitterness.  He said that people there do not know much about our elections, but that they don’t know much about their own, either.  Is it true that half of your people did not vote?  We also have difficulties here.  We are told that 60% of Nicaraguans voted, but most of us don’t believe that number.  President Ortega was really the only candidate. Sometimes he says some outrageous things and many cannot support that.  But our democracy is not as old as yours and we are still trying to become better.   Do you like Mr. Trump?

We are able to see that you have begun your holiday festivals now.  On the television I watched your Giving-thanks day, with all of the food that you have and big roasted birds!  It looks like an enjoyable feast.  I was wondering if all of the food gets eaten by each family.  We have our festivals and celebrations, of course, but the food is not nearly so plentiful as what I have seen in pictures.    For many of us in Nicaragua, it would be hard to imagine so much food at one time!

One thing that I don’t understand is what you have called viernes negro, or “Black Friday,” which really seems to begin on your Giving-thanks day.  If your Giving-thanks day is a time for your family to be together and give thanks, why is that demonstrated by leaving the home to do buying?  Maybe buying more things is one of your ways of being thankful?  This year, I have heard that “Black Friday” happened in some stores here.  We have some U.S. stores here who started to do it.  But for most of us, buying is for satisfying a need that we have.  It looks like in the United States that buying is more of an activity all by itself, and one that you do even when you do not have an actual need.  My son says that it is a psychological need that you have, that you do even more of it when there is a crisis, to make you feel better.  I remember that this was your way of coping with the terrible 9/11 incident.

We are soon to see the first of our festivities before Christmas. In several days we begin “La Purisima” or as my son translates it,  the Immaculate Conception of Virgin Mary.  Many thousands of young people in the country sing as loudly as they can and go from house to house to sing hymns honoring the Virgin Mary.   In small towns like where I live there is an old custom of the Catholic Church organizing a parade. The priest goes around the town with a number of performers imitating people from the Bible and enacting the birth of Jesus Christ. Many people view this parade with great devotion.
Do you still celebrate the birth of Jesus or is your holiday more about buying?  My son tells me that in some places you cannot even celebrate Jesus in public but I do not believe that could be true at Christmas!

I have enjoyed writing to you!  I hope that my letter is not boring or irritating.  I have never been to your country and do not know it too well.  I would like to come there and see Disney World.  Also the Statue of Liberty.  It would be difficult for that to happen, so maybe you will come here to visit.  We do not have as many things as you, but we have beautiful land and our hearts are open to you….

Adios, Su amigo Nicaraguense

 

 

 

 

Four Days in November

Thanksgiving is nearly upon us here in the United States, which means that we have moved into late November and early Winter.  It’s always a transition time, with the reds and golds of Autumn giving way to dormant brown and, eventually, snow white.  Lots of people don’t care for November here in the upper Midwest of the country, but I love it.  It’s another promise of change and of time moving on, hallmarks of getting out of the “comfort zone,”  and that’s a good place for us to be.  But this month has already presented a series of “moments” for me, three significant days in a row, even before the promise of turkey.

The first day of note was the U.S election.  To my knowledge, and certainly in my experience, there has never been a contest as coarse, demeaning, undignified and as utterly devoid of fact as the election of 2016.  Much has been written about the candidates’ behaviors by others (nearly everyone), but from the perspective of one rather ordinary citizen, I characterize the fiasco as an event which oozed disgrace and lack of civility at every turn.  If this is, in fact, democracy in action, then my own sensitivities suggest that we search for an alternative form of government altogether.

Yet the discouragement and even despair that I felt during this election season is ironically what made the second day of my November journey stand out so brightly.  On the  day following the election, I met with both the Managing Director and the Program Director of the Nobel Peace Prize Forum.  We convened to meet one another for the first time, to talk about some of the new aspirations for the Forum and to discuss a potential presentation by Winds of Peace at next year’s assembly.  The conversation was a stimulating and hopeful one.

I mean, how could it NOT have been, when elements of the discourse included the names of past laureates, the efforts being made around the world to convene peaceful resolution of conflict. Yes, members of the Tunisian Quartet, the 2015 recipients of the Peace Prize, would be in attendance.  President Obama has been invited, in addition to his half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, who is among the faculty at peace and conflict resolution institute in Hawaii.  Congresswoman Gabby Giffords will be in attendance, with her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly.  And many others, less celebrated and completely anonymous, will be present over those days to talk about their own initiatives and experiences with peace-building.  Against the glow of enthusiasm and commitment of my hosts, a feeling of hope seemed to lift me a bit straighter in my chair.  I walked back to my car with a little more bounce in my step, I think.

On the third day of this sequence, I was to speak to a University of St. Thomas class about the work being done by the Foundation, and how it mirrors, in many ways, the strategies and attitudes brought into play in my former for-profit organization, Foldcraft Co.  I arrived on campus a little early, so I took advantage of the beautiful morning and walked around for a while, taking in the surroundings and feeling the promise that only a university campus can provide.  Quickly I noticed the scores of banners hung around every sidewalk and building, which read, “All for the common good.”  I was struck by the rightness and optimistic promise of that phrase and truly moved to see its presence everywhere.  It was an advent to the class experience to follow.

The presentation went well ( I was told).  The class participants were engaged and curious and full of outward excitement at ideas of organizational wealth-sharing, broad participation and transparency, collaborative work and rewards, and the practice of capitalism without distinction of class, the sanctity of human worth. The questions penetrated the essence of broad ownership and widespread involvement.  The students were intrigued and enthused.  I was pumped and energized.  Together, we had a good time.  After the class period, several students asked for my business card so that we might talk further about the marriage of business and social responsibility.  On this day, I did not notice a bounce in my step as I walked back to the car; I rather had the sense of floating

Within the span of three days, I experienced the lows and the highs that I know are inevitably a part of our human existence.  The outcome to all of it was simply this: I am reminded that the lows are to be found wherever we choose to see them.  There are enough to bring the entirety of mankind to its knees and complete dysfunction.  But just as assuredly, the highs are at least as numerous, and carry the potential to raise us above the mire of surrender.  It’s a matter of where one’s gaze seeks direction.  With heads down, we see the world as a dark place, indeed, and its paths lead to seemingly endless disappointment and loss.  But there is a great deal more to seen with heads up,  absorbing the brighter prospect, allowing us to see and draw strength from the hope that still does surround us.

All of which leads me to the fourth important day of this month, the one during which we are encouraged to be thankful for every blessing of our lives.  What a great idea, gratitude.  What a terrific posture for looking up, noticing the uplift that surrounds us, for acknowledging and embracing it, and for choosing to be the very engine for change, “all for the common good.”

Wow, Happy Thanksgiving, indeed….

 

 

Mother’s Day Reflection, Redux

I’ve been thinking about my Mom this weekend.  She’s been gone for six years now, and I think about her often, but especially this weekend, as we in the U.S. celebrate all things motherhood.  I felt as though I wanted to say something in regard to that, and then realized I had already done so a couple of years ago in this very space.  So I offer it here again, because I know how much my mother meant to me, and I to her:

It’s nearly impossible to overlook Mother’s Day today.  In the U.S., stories on the news, on the Internet and incessant commercials on television have been constant reminders that we all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to our mothers and we’d better pay off a portion of that debt today!  Such reminders are frequently followed by suggestions of gifts to bestow on our moms, ranging from flowers to diamonds.  (Personally, I’m not sure what my own mother would have thought about receiving a diamond bracelet from me on Mother’s Day, although I suspect that she would not have accepted it.)

Mother’s Day is a world phenomenon, with versions of it having been observed for centuries.  Its United States version was created by presidential proclamation in 1914 and we’ve been buying greeting cards ever since.  In a sense, it’s too bad that we need a day to show gratitude to our moms.  In another sense, we’re grateful for the official day to remind us to do so.  If my Mom was still alive, she’d be hearing from me, as she always did.

Of course, motherhood is one of the undeniable, universal ties that binds us together, men and women alike.  Not all women become moms, and no dads (that I know of) have become moms, but we all have a mom and thus a shared experience.  As different as our cultures may be around the world, the connection with our moms is one of the great equalizers of humankind, transcending borders and customs alike.

I watched a news program last night, the final story of which had to do with Mother’s Day.   It featured an entire classroom of six year-olds engaged in the task of creating handmade Mother’s Day cards.  As adorable as the children were to watch, their sentiments were even more precious to hear.  Each recited thanks for a special gift from their mothers that made these  moms so wonderful.  “Thank you for getting me breakfast every day.”  “Thank you for letting me watch movies.”  “Thank you for cooking dinner.”  “Thank you for making lunch for me.”  “Thank you for loving me.”  And one little boy reflected on the fact that when thinking of his mom he thought of chocolate cake.

As I listened to this litany of gratitude from the hearts of little kids, it occurred to me that not all little boys and girls around the world would necessarily be thanking their moms for such blessings.  While Nicaragua will not celebrate Mother’s Day until the end of this month, the gratitudes expressed on that day are likely to be quite different from those heard on the news segment: breakfast, lunch, dinner and chocolate cakes are less frequent amenities in Nicaragua than they are in the U.S.   But while the specific thanks might be dissimilar between the countries, one thing is not.  The hopes and aspirations of the mothers are very much the same.

Nica moms love their kids,  have hopes for a better standard of living, aspire to see their children be able to read and become educated, pray that their young evolve into decent people, and envision lives for them that are free from the exhaustion and indignity of poverty.  I can imagine hundreds of mothers in Nigeria today whose visions for their children reach far deeper than breakfast, lunch and dinner.   As well as in Ukraine.  And Syria.  Motherhood in such places is not the same as in the United States.

If the dreams that are dreamed by Nica moms are the same longings as U.S. moms, the likelihoods for those dreams are not.  For U.S. moms, dreams still hold the very real possibilities of becoming true, and kids can and do grow into their mothers’ yearnings.  For far too many Nica moms (and Nigerian, Ukrainian and Syrian moms), their dreams are the gift to their kids, because there are limited chances of such hopes ever becoming reality.  It’s the most and the best that they can do.  

If the sentiments of Mother’s Day are shared across cultures, the context of life and the future are not.  As we celebrate the love and sacrifices of those who brought us into the world, we artificially limit our regard for motherhood if we do not acknowledge the love and sacrifices of all moms….

Ordinary People

It’s been weeks since I last posted an entry, but the absence hasn’t been for the reasons you might expect.  Yes, the holidays came and went during this time, but as filled as they might have been with family at home, time for posting was not limited.  I did not travel anywhere nor did my computer suffer a winter hibernation.  Nonetheless, my time has been impacted by the passage of the holidays and two other significant events: the a two-week bout with the flu and a cold, and the birth of a grandchild.  As commonplace as all of these events might be (though for any grandparent there is no grandchild who is commonplace), their presence in recent days has had me thinking about the ordinary disruptions of daily life, how we experience them and the extent of their impacts.

The holidays themselves pose any number of distractions that can take me out of my daily rhythms.  We plan and prepare for family visits (a household of two is a very different space than a household of ten), change the quantity and content of our meals (cookies are terrific but not very forgiving) and a visit with an elderly neighbor becomes not just a nice time to chat but a holiday expectation (even though she professes to have had all the Christmases she needs).  I suppose that such distractions are among the attractions of the holidays, as they force us out of the sameness of everyday life, even if the routines are the same as other years gone by.  At least they aren’t the same as May or September routines.

Succumbing to illness, especially at this time of year, is especially interruptive, since we have expectations of gaiety and joy; indeed, every advertisement on television informs us of just the right gifts needed to provide giddy ecstasy over the holidays.  Illness, even if not particularly life-threatening, dims the brightness of the days and extends the wakefulness of the nights in a grotesquely unfair example of poor timing, which no amount of tissues or hot liquids can erase.  Holiday illness is the taskmaster of patience, at a time when Godspeed is needed.

To lighten such a load, the birth of a grandchild is highly recommended.  Tiny Claire Elizabeth came into this sphere on January 7, bringing with her the usual fanfare of newborns: the stress of childbirth, the anxiety of families, the thrill of new life, the introspective gravitas of a new legacy, the first cry of perseverance and finally, the unbridled joy of those who will be her family.  What event could be sweeter than this-  the newest piece to life’s puzzle.

So our days have been filled with mixtures of celebration, struggle, anxiety, fears, comforts, dreams and spiritual balm.  The rush of the holidays has passed by for another year, the discomforts of a winter illness have finally sought new victims for their misery and a newborn child has begun her journey of enriching, teaching and loving.

After ten years of working between two cultures and world views, the passage of these past weeks has given me pause to reflect upon the ordinary events and people of that other space in my life, Nicaragua.  What are the holidays and illnesses and births like for my friends in that country, and how do they unfold?  How do such occurrences impact the activities of those who experience them?

I think we can guess at the reality.  The holidays occupy a significant part of many Nicaraguans’ lives, as the celebration of the birth of Jesus is national in its importance.  But there is no frenzy to buy lavish gifts and to host overflowing holiday feasts for most: sufficiency at the table and in the home is difficult enough to maintain on ordinary days, though worthy enough of deep gratitude.

Nicaraguans become ill just like anyone else, so cough remedies and Indigenous recipes abound.  (Honey mixed in rum is what I have been recommended.)  Nicaraguans are not immune to the viruses that seem to stop us in our tracks.  It’s simply a case that Nicaraguans have a much more difficult time stopping in theirs; there is no safety net for such work stoppage and the margin of sufficiency too small to allow the luxury of staying at home or sipping hot chicken soup.  They cannot afford to stop for fear of falling further behind.  There are occasions when illness gets in the way of keeping up.  It’s when one of the particularly virulent strains of virus or bacteria attack the health of a worker and the ability to keep going is lost to the emergency of simply staying alive.  Poverty has a way of breeding brands of illness that make my cold of the past weeks seem like a hiccup.  It seems our respective senses of the ordinary are quite different from one another.

And when it comes to having children and grandchildren enter their lives, Nicaraguans feel the same range of emotion that the rest of us do, I suppose.  But whereas the dreams for Claire Elizabeth include notions of education, achievement and wholeness of life, dreams for the newly-born in Nicaragua may be far different.  The family of a newborn Angelina may dream first of survival and good health for their little girl.  Their prayers might include petitions for enough to eat, water to safely consume, and strength enough to be able to work on the coffee farm at an early age.  Their hopes likely include visions of their daughter being able to stay in school past the third grade, maybe even being schooled to high school, though the hope may be, practically speaking, a long shot.

What constitutes the ordinary for us depends very heavily upon where the miracle of birth and the journey of life occurs.  When we spend even a few moments in reflection and appreciation of that truth, it changes things.  Like the way we choose to celebrate the joys of our lives.  Like the acceptance of a temporary illness as a minor distraction instead of a major roadblock.  And like a growing awareness of just how extra-ordinary our own lives really have become….

 

 

Memorial Day 2015

Before Memorial Day week is history, I thought I’d offer a few thoughts about remembering those who have fought and died for a cause.

Memorial Day in the U.S. is a day in which to remember those who have fought and died in military conflicts on behalf of the United States.  Like most of our holidays, the original meaning behind the day tends to become lost in the commercial aspects of the celebration.  But upon reflection, many experience- even if only briefly- a somber recognition of the debt that we owe to those who have perished defending our nation and fighting injustice.  Our military dead have not always been fighting for such altruistic reasons, but motivation is perhaps a reflection for another day.  On this occasion, we honor those who have sacrificed their lives believing the forfeit was as important as the cause.

I like the idea of remembering and honoring those who have sacrificed.  Not only is it owed behavior, but it also possesses a cathartic quality, as though we have somehow paid off a bit of an ongoing obligation.  It feels right and good to acknowledge the debt, particularly so when I was neither called nor conscripted to make such a commitment.

As I reflected about this on the holiday, I began to contemplate other groups of people who perished in the line of “duty.”  For surely, every nation has its own version of Memorial Day, a time set aside to recall those patriots who fought for the ideals of their homelands, whatever those ideals may have been, within whatever historical context existed at the time.  Loss of fearless young men and women is a universal experience, wherever one calls home.

In every case of military conflict, both sides of the battle honor the selfless martyrs who were willing to give everything for their cause.  It is the human condition.  We are compelled to remember  because such acts represent the final measure of what a man or woman can give.  It is a state of being that we honor, glorify and celebrate.  And as I reflect upon the reverence we express on our Memorial Day gatherings, I wonder about those who have died “on the other side,” the families left behind, the dreams unrealized and the opportunities lost forever.

For, when it comes to grief, war favors no one.  Though one side of a conflict may emerge from battle having outlasted the other, both sides end up grieving for their losses.  One nation’s sorrow is not less than another’s.  The pain of loss is no less for one family than another.  Indeed, the loss of human potential is an affliction suffered by all of mankind, pieces of the grand puzzle that are gone forever.

From that perspective, I contemplated Memorial Day 2015 in a broader view.  It had less to do with remembering the issues that occasioned fighting, or which side might have fought a more justified war; every nation has been on both sides of that equation.  (Even the U.S. has history of now-indefensible initiatives, such as against Native Americans, African slaves and incursions into places like Viet Nam and Nicaragua.  And around the U.S., memorials are held for both Union and Confederate soldiers from its own Civil War.)  My thoughts this week had more to do with trying to comprehend the nearly-unfathomable costs that humankind has paid for its military ventures, whatever the motivations.

I am not naive nor even a pacifist; my intention here is not to suggest those circumstances which might define “a good war” nor to lessen the importance of the sacrifices that men and women have made in the name of justice.  But for this year, at least, my understanding of just who deserves remembering has expanded significantly, and it extends beyond the colors of any one flag and the borders of any one state or nation….                            images

 

Thanks Giving

As I prepared for the Thanksgiving holiday this week and the arrival of at least some of our children for a short visit, I found myself in an introspective frame of mind and full of gratitude for my life’s blessings.  I suspect it was a reflective moment for many people in the U.S., or at least it’s supposed to be.  It’s good to give thanks for copious amounts of food and leisure time, football games and “Black Fridays.”  Right?

With just a little different perspective, though, we might recall the basis of earlier Thanksgivings and what was celebrated in those times.  The very first one, I have read, was the effort of the earliest immigrants here to celebrate their very survival in those first years, with the Wampanoag Indigenous people, without whose assistance the great migration might have stumbled to a halt.  The first immigrants owed much to the first peoples; but in sharing, they all observed their common thanks to whatever Spirit occupied their hearts.

The first immigrants to this country stood upon the shoulders of Indigenous people who had been here for generations.  The Europeans were sustained by the Indigenous, learned from them, shared their food and means to survive the new environment.  The Native American culture must have seemed other-worldly to the newcomers, but then, the immigrants had deliberately chosen to seek out a new world. 

Those early celebrations contained two distinct components, the thanks and the giving.  They are pieces of our historical fabric that I’m trying hard to remember in these modern times, when the recognition of our needs for interdependence and stewardship often dims in the shadow of consumerism and self-gratification.  For some, shopping has become the new face of gratitude. Thanksgiving Day has become a day of thanks marked by over-consumption of food followed by conspicuous consumption of other “things.”  In response, I’ve tried to eat less and think more about my own giving.

Since the dawn of existence, we have lived on a finite planet.  That simply means that for every gift, every resource, every blessing that I have received, someone else did not receive it.  Wherever I may fall on the human continuum of prosperity, there will be those above me and those below.  I need to be thankful for where I am on that continuum, but I never wish to lose sight of those below.  I need to remember them because I can, in just the same fashion as I have needed and hoped for the support of those above of me.  It’s the way a real Thanksgiving is supposed to work, I think.  In giving, there is an implicit need for my thankfulness: thanks for being in a circumstance where I have the ability to give, for recognizing my capacity to do so, and for the self-reformation that comes in the giving.  It’s a perspective that is strangely comforting to me, and a view for which I am truly thankful.

There is comfort and confidence in the recognition that I am on this journey of life with many others, rather than facing its uncertainties by myself.  And I think that I am not alone in this….

 

 

 

 

 

Moms

It’s nearly impossible to overlook Mother’s Day today.  In the U.S., stories on the news, on the Internet and incessant commercials on television have been constant reminders that we all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to our mothers and we’d better pay off a portion of that debt today!  Such reminders are frequently followed by suggestions of gifts to bestow on our moms, ranging from flowers to diamonds.  (Personally, I’m not sure what my own mother would have thought about receiving a diamond bracelet from me on Mother’s Day, although I suspect that she would not have accepted it.)

Mother’s Day is a world phenomenon, with versions of it having been observed for centuries.  Its United States version was created by presidential proclamation in 1914 and we’ve been buying greeting cards ever since.  In a sense, it’s too bad that we need a day to show gratitude to our moms.  In another sense, we’re grateful for the official day to remind us to do so.  If my Mom was still alive, she’d be hearing from me, as she always did.

Of course, motherhood is one of the undeniable, universal ties that binds us together, men and women alike.  Not all women become moms, and no dads (that I know of) have become moms, but we all have a mom and thus a shared experience.  As different as our cultures may be around the world, the connection with our moms is one of the great equalizers of humankind, transcending borders and customs alike.

I watched a news program last night, the final story of which had to do with Mother’s Day.   It featured an entire classroom of six year-olds engaged in the task of creating handmade Mother’s Day cards.  As adorable as the children were to watch, their sentiments were even more precious to hear.  Each recited thanks for a special gift from their mothers that made these  moms so wonderful.  “Thank you for getting me breakfast every day.”  “Thank you for letting me watch movies.”  “Thank you for cooking dinner.”  “Thank you for making lunch for me.”  “Thank you for loving me.”  And one little boy reflected on the fact that when thinking of his mom he thought of chocolate cake.

As I listened to this litany of gratitude from the hearts of little kids, it occurred to me that not all little boys and girls around the world would necessarily be thanking their moms for such blessings.  While Nicaragua will not celebrate Mother’s Day until the end of this month, the gratitudes expressed on that day are likely to be quite different from those heard on the news segment: breakfast, lunch, dinner and chocolate cakes are less frequent amenities in Nicaragua than they are in the U.S.   But while the specific thanks might be dissimilar between the countries, one thing is not.  The hopes and aspirations of the mothers are very much the same.

Nica moms love their kids,  have hopes for a better standard of living, aspire to see their children be able to read and become educated, pray that their young evolve into decent people, and envision lives for them that are free from the exhaustion and indignity of poverty.  I can imagine hundreds of mothers in Nigeria today whose visions for their children reach far deeper than breakfast, lunch and dinner.   As well as in Ukraine.  And Syria.  Motherhood in such places is not the same as in the United States.

If the dreams that are dreamed by Nica moms are the same longings as U.S. moms, the likelihoods for those dreams are not.  For U.S. moms, dreams still hold the very real possibilities of becoming true, and kids can and do grow into their mothers’ yearnings.  For far too many Nica moms (and Nigerian, Ukrainian and Syrian moms), their dreams are the gift to their kids, because there are limited chances of such hopes ever becoming reality.  It’s the most and the best that they can do.  

If the sentiments of Mother’s Day are shared across cultures, the context of life and the future are not.  As we celebrate the love and sacrifices of those who brought us into the world, we artificially limit our regard for motherhood if we do not acknowledge the love and sacrifices of all moms….