Gratitude when you’ve lost everything

Wild fires engulf the hills and mountains of Simi Valley, California (CA).

This has been a hard year for many people I know. I have friends who were forced out of their homes during the recent California fires. A coworker of a high school friend was killed at the Borderline shooting in Thousand Oaks. I’ve been in touch with people who lost friends at Stoneman Douglas. A long-time coworker was laid off months after his wife died.

Even if no tragedies affected you this year, we all suffer from a persistent dread of what is happening in the world. We look at Washington and see endless chaos. We look at the economy with a nagging sense that something terrible is about to happen. We no longer look at the future with confidence.

With things as they are, how do we celebrate Thanksgiving this year? How do you show gratitude when you’ve lost everything?

I think back to a Thanksgiving that was like that for me. In the fall of 1979, my mom had the stroke that left her paralyzed for life. She remained in the hospital while she was going through therapy. I was trying to start college and juggling work and new responsibilities at home. My brother was starting high school. Neither of us knew if our mom was going to recover, if things were going to get back to whatever normal is supposed to be, or how we could celebrate Thanksgiving without our mom making the sumptuous dinners she made in the past.

That was when a nurse gave my brother and me a gift certificate to Bob Burns for a free Thanksgiving dinner. It wasn’t like the Thanksgivings we used to have, but it was still Thanksgiving.

Some of you will spend Thanksgiving at an evacuation center because your house was destroyed. Some of you will have an empty chair at the table because someone you love is gone. Some of you will enjoy a delicious feast and plan your Black Friday shopping unsure of whether you can do it again next year. Still, we enjoy what we can with the loved ones who are still here. We remain grateful because we know we can’t take the people we love for granted.

Thanksgiving reminds us to appreciate what we have and share with those who have less than we do. No matter what we’ve lost, there is always something for which we are grateful.


Originally published at Matthew Arnold Stern.