Listen to: Matthew West "Do Something"
The meaning of Thanksgiving was first planted in my mind on a cold, sleety, November day when I was nine years old. I was out selling raffle tickets for my school, St. Colman’s. That bitter cold Saturday morning I wanted to be plopped in front of the TV, watching cartoons, not battling fierce Lake Erie winds and cutting rejection door-to-door sales.
I had just about had it. I was soaked to the bone. Water squished between my toes, reminding me my feet were thoroughly drenched. There was one last house before I crossed over Detroit Avenue to W. 85th Street, my home turf. I eyed this house warily. My blue-collar neighborhood had its clear prejudices – the poor amongst us were the “hillbilly” folk who migrated up from West Virginia and Kentucky. Their houses and yards tended to be messy as their lives—so I was told, one way or another. At least that was the stereotype.
This house was looking like it was fitting the stereotype to a “T.” Broken, unpainted steps. Scattered toys and rickety porch furniture in disarray. Still, seeking an elusive sale, I knocked on the door. A dog barked. A gaggle of children appeared at the door, jumping up and down. A large woman, with stringy hair pulled back in a ponytail, a toothless smile, looked at me, cut off my feeble sales speech, yanking me in saying, “stop about those raffle tickets, child. look at you, poor child, sopping wet. You must be freezing cold out there.”
Inside the warmth of the house, I realized just how cold I was. I took in the disarray – of toys strewn about, laundry helter-skelter, the TV blaring with my favorite cartoon, five young children chattering at once, showing me drawings, action figures and dance moves. All the while the brood was entertaining me, their mother was speaking to me soothingly, and reassuring, “we best take off these wet things and dry them up.” She put my drenched socks and gloves on a radiator my boots on a newspaper, sat me on the couch next to the dog wrapped in a big blanket, and said, “Wait one minute. I’m going to get you something nice and warm to drink.”
In a few minutes, she returned with a steaming mug of strawberry milk. It was the most delicious beverage I have ever had in my entire life. What did she put into it? It was just hot milk and strawberry mix. However, it was a lot more. It was the experience of loving-kindness that we rarely experience these days, especially from complete strangers.
As the warmth of that strawberry milk filled my body, I felt shame about the prejudices even I as a child had picked up against our poorer neighbors – and here I felt treated like a princess even though it was I who intruded on her day. I felt those prejudices begin to dissolve in the warmth of the love that was flooding my heart; that was also returning to my limbs.
As soon as my socks and mittens were dried I was ready to go. I gave my benefactor a big hug, and never saw her again. There was no need to. I learned the lesson.
Always be grateful for all the people in your life, no matter who they are. We humans like to classify some of us as better than others or more deserving than others. I have learned that this is dangerous and spiritually deadly. We never know another’s full story, history or with what they are dealing. We are not in a position to judge. We are only in a position to give, Jesus says. Perhaps it’s only a prayer. Perhaps we can lend a hand. Or more.
Or perhaps someday the tables are turned and we may need some help from someone. A cup of strawberry milk – or more. That’s how it works. We are all here to help one another. So let’s be grateful for this wonderful web of caring and sharing that exists among family and strangers –and the privilege it is to give of ourselves to one another.
Prayer: God of Giving; There is no way we can outdo you in generosity! However, help us to do our best to become as generous-hearted as we have been created to be. Amen.