Thursday, November 23, 2006

Giving Thanks

After a lovely meal with friends and a rainy day at home, there is really so much to be thankful for, and so much we so easily take for granted. My relative privilege is something to always remember and recognize. A warm home, regular paycheck, loving family, health insurance, investments, a good car, plentiful creature comforts, money in the bank, food in the cupboard---it's more than most people can ever hope to have.

Whether I like it or not, being a white, middle-class, college-educated American grants me more privileges than I can even imagine. I have no idea what it's like to be a person of color in this world where light skin is still a ticket to lower mortgage rates and more opportunity, as unconscionable as that seems. My class- and race-based advantages are myriad, and that is something to never take for granted. Watching an episode of Morgan Spurlock's 30 Days in which he and his fiance live on minimum wage for a month in Cleveland underscores the fact that so many people run that treadmill their whole lives with little hope of ever improving their lot.

In this blog, I have sometimes written of the guilt I feel when I go home to my cozy, well-heated home filled with health-food, while many of my patients struggle with survival issues of the most basic kind long after my 9 to 5 is over. What does that mean? Where is the learning edge for me? For them? How does one calculate one's privilege and come to terms with its reality? What is the calculus of privilege and what is the solution to that equation?

How many people ate alone today? How many people didn't eat? Who was friendless? Who is orphaned? Who was dying? Who was in pain? Who was crying? Who was contemplating suicide? Who despaired? Who cried themselves to sleep?

Yes, problems and challenges are relative. I cannot solve others' hunger by going hungry myself. Sure, Morgan Spurlock tried it, George Orwell tried it too, with honorable mention to Barbara Ehrenreich. Walking in another's moccasins is surely an eye-opener, but it's not the only way to class/social/economic enlightenment. Still, these "experiments" by others give us an insider's view, re-focusing our lens and challenging our compassion. Last night's film, "Turtles Can Fly", told the heart-wrenching story of children struggling for survival in a refugee camp in northern Iraq, a theatrical representation of lives that are being similarly lived by millions around the world as I type these lines. It's overwhelming.

Where to from here on this Thanksgiving evening? My belly full, my house warm and insulated from the cold New England rain and wind, my wife asleep on the easy-chair under a blanket, Tina the dog dreaming the dreams of a well-fed and well-loved animal. It's an eternal conundrum, one which can be approached from many angles. Is it the luck of the draw that I'm here in this room, typing on my computer, in this house, in this safe and prosperous neighborhood, the fridge bursting with Thanksgiving leftovers? Am I grateful? Oh yes. Do I feel I "deserve" such luxuries? There is not a single person who does not deserve at least this or more. But can they ever expect to have it in this life?

At times, the thought of others' suffering is too much to bear. The cruelty and poverty and famine and war and violence which permeate this world is just astronomical. I can walk out of my house with no fear of landmines or snipers' bullets. I can rest assured that my car will get me to work on Monday, and my credit card will pay for its repair if it breaks down, AAA towing me safely when I request their assistance at any time of day or night. Is there 24-hour on-call service for the soul? Will AAA tow away our broken society and take it to the shop for a tune-up? Where is the button I can push to make it all better? Rhetorical questions all, and the answers are not easily forthcoming.

Gratitude is the least that we can muster. The abundance is all around us, and the blessings just seem to multiply without asking. In this consumerist society, how easy it is to always want more, to always be striving to have the next great thing. Today, let's look at what we have, count those multitudinous blessings, and remember those who have so much less. It's the least we can do. And there's so much more.

Happy Thanksgiving.
Post a Comment