Tag Archives: Gratitude

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….

Losing Your Nose to Spite Your Face

I’m puzzled.   As a fellow of reasonable intelligence (despite the claims of a few irrational friends), I do the best I can to understand the motivations that drive people to think and do as they do, but occasionally I encounter actions that make no sense to my need for sensibility.  One such item occurred this past week in the strange case of Donald Sterling, current owner of the National Basketball Association L.A. Clippers.  Now, before you quit reading this as another Sterling-bash, consider staying with me.  Much has already been shared about the Sterling recording that should be insulting to every one of us, and I have little more to add to such perspectives about racism in the United States.  But in addition to and beyond his racist tripe, Sterling has also managed to reveal something puzzling, something that should be uncomfortable for us for other reasons.

Actually, there’s probably not a great deal of similarity between Donald Sterling and the rest of us.  He’s a billionaire,  a high-profile owner of a professional sports team, a man who openly flaunts  mistresses of his granddaughter’s age and who does so in full view of his wife.   He’s not the first high-profile person to shoot himself in the foot, nor even the biggest.  But when those infamous recordings were made public, Sterling also revealed himself to be a sadly myopic creature, one who is ironically unable to comprehend and capitalize on his own good fortunes.  And this is where we might have something in common.

In just one recorded tantrum, Sterling managed to disparage an entire race of people, but also: insult the fan base that has fed his basketball investment, betray the human assets on whom he relies to conduct that business, cheat financial sponsors who have supported the team and enflame an entire nation which loves to feed upon the missteps and awkward utterances of those who should know better.  In short, Sterling tore apart the foundation of his own well-being.

For the rest of us, our consequences may be less dramatic and immediate, but our stumbles are no less inscrutable.  We humans possess the innate ability and curse to ignore our self-devised catastrophes despite the wealth of history, science, self-awareness and technologies available to us.  We too easily look away from impending consequences of widening poverty, climate change, loss of liberties and other looming realities in the same way that Sterling dismissed the importance of a personal moral standard.  Our blind tendencies are even endemic within the conduct and pronouncements of our nations.

For instance, the United States.  It’s clear that our government is either oblivious to or content with the inexorable erosion of a middle class which has been the bedrock of the nation’s growth and strength for decades.  As the disparity between the super-rich and the lower economic class continues to widen,  only the wealthiest citizens will be capable of buying goods and services to fuel economic prosperity.  That’s something which this small portion of the population is incapable of expanding, simply due to their limited number.  It’s the death-knell to coveted growth.  But like Donald Sterling, we seem to be unmindful of the very strengths that got us to this unprecedented level of national economic wealth. Like Sterling, we take for granted that such standing will always be there for us.  Yet the illusion foreshadows a very Sterling-like destruction of our own well-being.

It’s no less true in a place like Nicaragua, where our human propensities play out in the very same ways.  The powerful and elite systematically marginalize the powerless and peasantry, to the detriment of sustainable development.  Meanwhile, this second-poorest country of the Western Hemisphere has been attempting for decades to build upon its foundational strengths- agriculture, natural resources, social and cultural heritage- while at the same time ignoring the reality that most Nicaraguan children aren’t even graduating from grade school.  It’s like trying to lay a building foundation on wet sand, and it’s self-defeating.  As in the case of Mr. Sterling, somehow it’s easier to ignore the truth rather than acknowledge the very elements necessary for survival.

Condemnation of Donald Sterling has been swift and nearly unanimous, even among those of us who do not follow the NBA or NFL, MLB or NHL.   And I remain puzzled over this, not because I would in any way condone the boorish behavior of a clueless narcissist, but because I wonder whether we are not all guilty of the same kind of shallow, short-term and self-inflicting pain that Sterling has created for himself.  Maybe we are galvanized in our collective emotions around all of this because deep down we fear that we see something of ourselves in the guise of an 81 year-old who surely, finally comprehends his own hubris, albeit too late….

 

Fernando

I was asked recently about my most memorable encounter in Nicaragua.  I didn’t really have to think very long about the question, despite the fact that I have traveled there several times each year since 2006 and had experienced an earlier introduction to the country in 1990.  I have had many wonderful, frustrating, inspiring, motivating and sad moments during those visits.  But there is one that stays with me like no other.   It’s a moment from my earliest visit that will be in my heart and mind forever, one of those transforming moments that further shapes who I am.  I relate it frequently when I speak on behalf of the Foundation and I share it here for your consideration:

The back end of the pickup truck was absolutely filled with kids.  They sat scrunched and huddled there, seemingly glad to be done with the outdoor church service we had just attended, and eager as could be to learn something, anything, about the North American visitors who had come to their community.  Not many of us had come to this part of Nicaragua, perhaps.  For some of the littlest ones- maybe three or four years old- perhaps we were the first gringos they had seen.  But they hung on every word we spoke through rough translation and pounced on every question we asked as if it belonged to each of them alone.  

I had connected with one young boy in a special way.  We had greeted one another earlier in the day, in a location very distant from where we now stood.  Yet, when I climbed off the bus which had brought us to join this neighborhood church service, suddenly there he was, hand extended again, a friend from an earlier hour.  I had no idea how he came to be at this place.

Fernando was maybe ten, but certainly more shrewd than his years.  We talked and joked in gestures.  And seated in the back of that pickup truck among so many other little faces, Fernando finally asked me if I had any children of my own.  With great pride I pulled my wallet and flipped to the pictures of katie and our kids.  The entire truck sagged to the back end as the children strained to see the pictures.  They laughed in delight.  But Fernando sat back, his face serious in thought.  Amidst the laughter, I wondered what was on his mind.

He leaned forward after a bit and put his fingers to his eyes, as if to appear Asian.  It had not escaped his notice that all four of my children are Korean-born.  He puzzled over it because Katie’s picture clearly showed that she is not Korean.

I explained, as best I could, that my four children were  akk adopted from Korea, but my children nonetheless.  He asked if I loved them.  I said, with all my heart.

Then, he pierced my heart.  He asked whether I would adopt him.  That his mother and father would not mind, as long as he was going to a better life.  That he was a good kid.  And that he was sure that I could love him.  He didn’t know the half of it.  Looking into the dark eyes and faces of those children, I could have been seeing the beautiful, dark features of my own kids.  I was chilled to think of them in this impoverished environment.  Perhaps as Fernando’s own parents were.  The idea that Fernando believed his parents would be accepting of his adoption in order to find “a better life” has haunted me for twenty-four years.

A fellow adoptive parent once said about our kids, “Well, you know, they are not really your children.  They are universal children, belonging to all of us.  As all children are.”  In one very real sense, he was absolutely correct.  We- you, me, all of us- are responsible for the lives and the well-being of our kids.  And I came to truly know the truth of it in the face of a little boy called Fernando….

 

 

 

Restlessness

This has been a particularly busy season, as WPF finds its way forward without either of its founders for the first time ever.  The holiday season imposes its usual demands upon us even as we seek to find ways to slow down and live in the moments that make it up.  We have anticipated, reveled in, and now reminisced about the presence of family, delighted that many could be together and wistful about the absence of those who could not.  And through it all, I have been feeling a bit restless thinking about gifts.

Now, I’m not referring to the presents under the tree that I received this year; they have long ago become more a cause of guilt than of giddy entitlement.  The gifts that I’ve been contemplating are the ones that take the form of everyday joys and wonders, the ones that we might take for granted if we allow ourselves to do so, the ones that are easy to miss simply because they are so commonplace, so seemingly mundane.  I’ve been thinking about the gifts that make up our everyday lives. Continue reading Restlessness

Appreciating Wood

A friend of mine who is also a building contractor stopped by to visit about some work that he was doing for me.  I met his truck in the driveway, and as he climbed out of the cab, he said, “I’ve got a present for you!”  As I walked around the back of his truck, I noticed a trash can filled with wood scraps from one of his worksites.  Not thinking that the trash can might actually be for me, I sarcastically yelled, “Wow!  A trash can full of wood scraps!  Now I’ve got kindling to spare for my fireplaces!”  To my surprise and genuine excitement, he said,  “Yep.  I took a bunch home with me after we had cleaned up a job, and I thought you might be able to use some, too.  It’s great kindling, for sure.”

When he lugged the can off the truck bed, I noted all kinds of lengths and shapes of wood pieces, mostly pine, that had been shed from whatever construction project had been undertaken.  Some were in the shape of thin strips, perfect for lighting a fire merely by match.  Other pieces were slat-like lengths that would serve as excellent boosters to the thinner strips.  And the pieces of two-by-fours would lend their chunkier girth to encourage an all-out blaze.  I was elated to have it all!

That evening, I strolled out to the garage to pick the pieces needed for the night’s fire.  With little effort, I grabbed enough pine sufficient to probably start three fires, not just the one I had in mind.  I noted the clean pieces, how white and unblemished they appeared; the stuff  seemed almost too good to burn, but it was scrap, after all.  As I loaded the kindling into the fireplace, I began to think about how accessible all of this had been, how conveniently it had appeared in my driveway, its availability.  But it reminded me of kitchen fires I  experience during my travels in Nicaragua, and how the women and children in the rural sectors of that country can be observed day and night hauling whatever branches, sticks or other combustible fuel they can find along the roads and in the thickness of the roadside woods.

Once again I am reminded of the enormous disparity that exists between those of us for whom few things in life are missing, and those for whom even the discovery of sticks, branches and dead tree limbs is a life blessing.  And it is within this realization, this understanding that what might be commonplace for me can be of far greater value to someone else, that I have re-discovered and re-energized a sense of wonder in the smallest and most mundane of things.

Such awakening caught me by surprise; that’s not uncommon for lessons learned in Nicaragua.  I had not expected rural Nicaraguans to teach me the value of simple things; I felt that I already possessed such sensitivity.  I did not anticipate a sharpening clarity of my senses to the point of loving wood, feeling gratitude for its utility and reverence for its value.  I did not imagine a trash can of pine scraps to be a gift of hearth and home and evening comfort.  But I received all of that and more.

As that weekend came to a close, I wrote a short note of thanks to my contractor/benefactor and told him about my surprising epiphany of wood.  He wrote back with a sad and rather desperate truth: “It is strange how (rich) we wealthy North Americanos are in so many ways. And we don’t even know it….”