For me, Thanksgiving marks the official kick-off of the holidays. It’s one of my favorite days where gathering with family and friends, celebrating the bounty of a full table of homemade food, and offering thanks for my many blessings are all untainted by the retail frenzy soon to follow.
This is the first year I have been able to retreat and have some time for reflection before Thanksgiving. I had the beautiful opportunity to celebrate my Mother’s 75th birthday. She has the most generous spirit of anyone I’ve ever known and celebrating her got me to think about the connection between gratitude (thanksgiving) and generosity. Always quick to count her blessings, when crisis knocks on her door she never asks “why me” but “why not me?”. She doesn’t see herself as immune from suffering but is grateful instead for provision through times of crisis. She seldom relies on her own strength but presses in to the faith she professes. When approached with the suffering of those around her, she listens for an inner voice and follows her heart with how she may be called to engage in their stories and often she does. She has been my example, an act I can only aspire to follow.
Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche (an international organization of persons who live in community with the disabled), poses the question: “How do we sit with people in their pain?”. Pain exposes us. It makes us vulnerable. It may be or own pain or the pain of those around us. Our response to this pain says a lot about the state of our hearts. I have seen the people most able to sit with me in my pain are those who have been through pain themselves. While this isn’t always the case, I find it more often to be true than not. Suffering weeds people out of your life and also bring new people into your circle. Those who are generous to the suffering yield proof there is beauty even in pain.
Take time to think of someone in your life (like my Mother) who posses the spirit of generosity. I am confident they are also a person of gratitude. Many people are facing their first Thanksgiving without loved ones, others are undergoing a health crisis, addiction or other kind of deep loss. What will our response be? It is my hope that the gratitude we feel in our hearts will be evidenced by the generosity we express to others. Generosity is one of the only actions that can send scarcity and it’s friend fear running for cover. So now when we think of Thanksgiving, let it be a reminder that gratitude births generosity. When we kindle the fire of gratitude you produce the flame of generosity that banishes fear, and transforms pain into something beautiful.