What The Poor Can Still Teach Us About Being Thankful

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

I don’t know about you, but I noticed that the Christmas/holiday commercials started way earlier this year. Like, before Halloween early. In the past, the purpose of Black Friday was to get companies from the red into the black on their revenue sheets. Now it’s just unadulterated capitalism and materialism. And greed. Shame on them for exploiting what is supposed to be a season of being thankful for what we already possess. Shame on us even more for being complicit.

My friend Ms. Elaine won’t be thinking about Black Friday deals. She’ll be making sure her grandkids that live with her get a proper Thanksgiving meal. I met Ms. Elaine a few years ago when I began tutoring her grandson, Jaimauri, then in the fourth grade. I have since stopped tutoring him, but she and I became friends and she became a special part of my life.

Ms. Elaine is a 50-something black woman, insufficiently educated, unable to work, a litany of health issues, supporting a sick partner who is also unable to work, and currently has Jai and his little brother A.J. living with her because her daughter, their mother, is also unemployed and unable to care for all her kids.

She lives in a run-down apartment complex that is most likely subsidized housing. I’m always startled by the fact that she lives about two blocks away from my aunt’s pristine and lovely gated neighborhood. The poor are literally our neighbors. She doesn’t like for Jai and A.J. to spend too much time outside with the other neighborhood kids because she knows the teens are into drugs and who knows what else. And nowadays it’s dangerous to be a young, black male out in the streets.

To many people, Ms. Elaine is a statistic lumped together with the masses like her who are living off of welfare and our hard-earned tax dollars. It’s easy to judge and disdain a faceless, nameless number. But when you meet and get to know the person, the human being, you find compassion instead. She is so tired of struggling through life and supporting everyone around her. The pit of poverty is deep and complex and she can’t dig herself out.

It is an unlikely friendship, but Ms. Elaine has taught me more about faith and being thankful than anyone I know. She has nothing, yet will give something to friends if they ask for help. She feels ashamed if she has to ask for money, yet will do it if her grandchildren depend on it. She has every reason to renounce a God that dealt her a lousy hand, yet it is her faith that sustains her when all else fails her. She is thankful for every single thing she has because it is a blessing and she understands she may not have it tomorrow.

I wish I could wake up daily with that awareness and humility and gratitude. Maybe if we lived each day counting our blessings, we wouldn’t be so preoccupied with what we want to buy next. That’s a lesson we can still learn from the least among us.