My house has never flooded in a hurricane or been burned in a wildfire. I have been fortunate that the people closest to me have not died suddenly or tragically. The closest my life has come to tragedy was the morning that Hurricane Harvey was pounding Houston and my neighborhood. My husband woke me up by saying, “start packing our stuff. The water is at the front porch.”
I got out of bed and started looking around the house for what mattered, the items I wanted to put on the valuable upper shelves of the closets in case the water entered our house. The important paperwork. The kids’ scrapbooks and notebooks of their elementary school work and awards. Photos and the devices that held them. Our wedding video and photos.
I remember there was a point where I had all of those things lifted off the floor and I stood in my home, not knowing if this would be the end of the house in which we had lived and raised our family for eight years. I love our home and the life we have built. But beyond what I had put away, I realized everything else could wash away. What I couldn’t bear to lose that day was my family: my husband, our three children, and even our two dogs.
Everything else was replaceable.
I wonder if gratitude and thankfulness are inversely proportional to the blessings I have. Was I more grateful for a paycheck when I was young and watched my checking account flirt with a zero balance every two weeks? Was I more grateful for the Taco Cabana I ate in college than for the Whole Foods groceries I now eat every week?
Some of the most gracious and grateful people I’ve come across have the least. Why is that, I wonder? Why does having more make us want more?
I think it’s because when you stand to lose it all, when you could have it all taken away from you, you appreciate every little thing. You know what matters.
When you have been out of work for a year and have watched your family wait in food lines, you are grateful for a job that others might find demeaning.
When your family member is being deported after not having lived in his country of origin for 40 years, it makes you hang on to your children a little more tightly.
If you have been confined to a wheelchair, you are grateful for the days you could walk around on your legs. If you are homeless, you are grateful for a bed and a roof over your head.
Though we are somewhat isolated from each other and lonely, my family and I have what we need. If our house floods in the next hurricane, we have home and flood insurance and the means to rebuild our lives. We have family that will take us in and share what they have. All five of us are covered by health insurance. I cannot imagine a “rock bottom” when I’m currently so far from it.
So this Thanksgiving, here is my task. And here is what I want to teach my children.
This Thanksgiving, I want to be grateful for my health like someone who’s just beaten cancer.
Grateful for my home like someone who’s been sleeping on the streets.
Grateful for the air I breathe like someone who’s just come off a ventilator.
Grateful for the freedoms of democracy like someone who’s lived in a country without freedom.
Grateful for $58 like someone who’s had to work eight hours to earn it.
And most of all, in a year where, to date, 254,000 families have an empty chair at their Thanksgiving tables from a virus we didn’t know existed a year ago, I want to be grateful for the people I love like someone who’s buried their loved ones.
This year, I truly want to be grateful.