What homelessness taught me about Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving holds a different meaning for everyone. Some people even find the concept of Thanksgiving offensive for various reasons. We all have the ability to perceive everything and everyone through our chosen perspective. We can see the positive or negative in everything, depending on our focus and the perspective we choose to adopt. I find that I am happier when I choose to see the good in situations and people.
My understanding of Thanksgiving is deeply rooted in a particular Thanksgiving nearly half a century ago. At that time, I had been homeless for about six months, taking refuge in a small cluster of trees and bushes on the grounds of the Seattle Center, home to the iconic Space Needle.
The reasons for my homelessness are not important. What matters is that this period of homelessness profoundly changed my worldview. Looking back, I am grateful for the experience, the emotions it stirred, and the positive influence it had on my life.
On that Thanksgiving Day, my usual place to eat was closed. I couldn’t understand why until I noticed the unusually quiet streets and realized it was a holiday. I ventured further from my hideout than usual, always careful not to leave my few possessions unattended. The only item I still have from that time is my scriptures.
As I walked, I noticed a line of men outside a homeless shelter. The unmistakable aroma of a Thanksgiving dinner filled the air. It was then I realized it was Thanksgiving Day. For the first time, I joined a food line. The men in line were silent, their gazes unfocused, as if trying to avoid the harsh reality of their situation. We stood there, a group of broken men, waiting in silence.
As the line slowly moved towards the entrance, the tantalizing smell of the dinner grew stronger. I was hungrier than I had realized. I had been surviving on one meal a day for months and had lost a significant amount of weight.
As I neared the entrance, it hit me that I had never been in a food line before. I had never accepted a handout, never begged or asked for something for nothing. I had always worked for everything I had. I took pride in earning my keep.
Just before I entered the shelter, I stepped out of the line and returned to my hideout. It was a poignant moment as I realized that my pride was preventing me from accepting a simple act of kindness and generosity.
Pride can be a destructive trait, not only for the individual but also for those around them. I have struggled with my pride all my life, trying to strike a balance between self-confidence and avoiding arrogance. Even when my intentions are good, they can be misinterpreted by others.
Today, my understanding of Thanksgiving is deeper because of a Thanksgiving meal I turned down many years ago. I am grateful that I can contribute my time, skills, influence, and money to make a positive impact. Even when we have nothing, we all have something to give, even if it’s just a smile.
I have learned when we are on the receiving end of kindness it should received be gracefully not pridefully Accepting a gift gracefully is important, whatever the gift maybe, from a kind word, to a thoughtful gesture or financial assistance. Gratitude is the absence of pride and thankfulness is art of thoughtfulness.
I have learned when you are on the giving end of kindness it should be done out of love. Excepting nothing in return not even a thank you is ok if the gift is given with love. Unconditional love by its nature expects nothing other than to repeat the process of love over and over again.
The truth is we all give and we all receive. I think for me where so much has been given I have an obligation based on love to pay it all forward. I inherently know I can never repay the kindness shown to me throughout my life time. Some to who I own so much have passed on, others I have lost track of over time and distance.
What I have been doing now for years now is trying on a larger scale to pay the love and kindness showed to me forward. I am giving it my best to be more giving, and it will be for others to say when I have passed on if I was successful in giving more than I took from life. What I do know is I will die trying to give more than I received.
But here is the truth about giving. When you give what you receive back is always greater than the gift you gave away. It is fruitless for any of us to think we can truly give more than we ever got.
Thanksgiving is a day to be thankful for the ability to give… Thankfulness and freely giving are life long habits of learning how to do more good and do no harm. I am thankful, for family and friends who I truly love. I am grateful for acquaintances in strangers who have done small acts of kindnesses as simple as a sincere smile.
Learning to accept kindness graciously, rather than with pride, is a valuable lesson. Whether it’s a kind word, a thoughtful gesture, or financial aid, every gift should be received with grace. Gratitude is the antidote to pride, and thankfulness is the essence of thoughtfulness.
When we are the ones offering kindness, it should be done out of love, expecting nothing in return, not even a thank you. Unconditional love, by its very nature, expects nothing but to perpetuate the cycle of love.
The reality is that we all give and we all receive. I believe that having received so much, I have a duty, based on love, to pay it forward. I know I can never repay all the kindness I’ve received throughout my life. Some of those to whom I owe so much are no longer with us, others I’ve lost touch with over time and distance.
For years now, I’ve been trying to pay forward the love and kindness shown to me on a larger scale. I’m doing my best to be more giving, and it will be for others to judge, after I’m gone, whether I succeeded in giving more than I took from life. What I do know is that I will spend my life trying to give more than I received.
But here’s the truth about giving: what you receive in return is always greater than what you gave away. It’s futile for any of us to think we can truly give more than we receive.
Thanksgiving is a day to be thankful for the ability to give. Gratitude and generosity are lifelong habits that teach us how to do more good and cause less harm. I am thankful for my family and friends, whom I love dearly. I am grateful for acquaintances and strangers who have shown me small acts of kindness, as simple as a sincere smile.
Life isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty amazing! The more we reflect, the more amazing it becomes. Deep reflection on our lives reveals all the good that has been there all along.
Happy Thanksgiving Day!
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