I remember first learning about authentic gratitude…not just the external ideas of gratitude, but real gratitude…soulful grace.
In a family of alcoholics, the only holiday tradition seemed to be someone was drunk. As an escape from the drama, my mom and I would spend holidays volunteering at the city shelter. I knew we lived a modest lifestyle. My mom was a single mother, received no child support payments and had a small local job. We lived with my grandmother. I don’t know how she made ends meet each month, but she always managed. I didn’t ever know how close we were to being the families we served each holiday. We were all just doing our best, and despite the dysfunction, it always seemed to work out.
It was what you might expect at first. My mom and I would serve each person, clear their place for the next one. I would smile as I set each plate down. Often so ashamed, some wouldn’t want to make eye contact, just mumble a “thank you” and begin eating. Some would look straight in the face, honest and true, and stay in silence, with a simple head nod to acknowledge the moment. Then a woman came in. With a child. And my heart stopped. She looked like us, like my mom and me. And I could see. These hungry homeless people, they are people. Struggling human souls. This woman, and her child, they saw us, for who we were. And we were lucky enough to see them.
So, sure, it’s what you’d expect at first, but it wasn’t. It’s not what you’d expect when you see the vulnerability of another person, the basic need for food and shelter, the inability to function at a level society expects. It’s not what you’d expect when you see someone struggle, someone just like you, someone just like me. It’s not what you’d expect, from the safety of gratitude, to swing through and find grace. The experience moved from, “Wow, I’m so grateful we weren’t ever homeless, that we don’t have to sit at home in drama today…” to “Wow, I’m so grateful I could experience this soulful connection. That I could be seen, and that I could see people, people that are often unseen, and that we can share this moment, this understanding of what it means to be human.”
We walked away, my mom and I, from our services at the shelter, grateful to have had a human experience, a soulful experience, to see people for their divine grace, even when they couldn’t see it in themselves. Even when we couldn’t see it in ourselves. I always wanted the happy picture perfect family dinner. Everyone coming together. Soft lighting. Hugs. Security. I dare say, I thought we deserved it. I spent so much time focusing on what I thought we deserved, I wasn’t able to see we had all we needed.
Live in each moment.
And continue to build your life knowing that despite the struggles, you have all you need.