Before you read this article, I’d have you do something for me and, hopefully, for yourself, as well. I want you to put the newspaper down and walk over to your refrigerator. Open the door and stand there for a moment. Let yourself feel the total impact of the cool air that wafts from its interior. Breathe in the scents of various foods blending in the cool, refreshing breeze. Then, once you’ve fully experienced it, close the door and open your freezer. Put your hand inside and touch the frozen foods. Look at the ice - clear, frozen, waiting there to refresh a drink or a glass of water.
When you’re done, I’d like you to think for a moment what you would have given almost eight weeks ago, to have been able to have the same experience after the hurricane. I’d have you recall the pungent odors that emanated from your refrigerator/freezer back then and recollect the foods that either spoiled or were hurriedly cooked in order to save something before it filled your trash can. I don’t know how many promises you made to God, or to Reliant Energy, if only they’d turn the switch, power up your house and get you out of the dark. All you wanted was relief from the hot, humid temperatures that surrounded you and cool air to curtail the growth of mold in the interior of your walls. But, eight weeks later, you forget. You only dwell on what it was like back then. The stores were closed, restaurants weren’t operating, debris cluttered every street and sidewalk. There was no TV and unless you had a battery-operated radio, you were out of touch with the rest of the world.
I was out of town at the time, but I’ve heard it described as a “war zone”. My children have repeatedly said “You can’t imagine how terrible it was.” Alas, my wife and I joined their ranks when we returned. We lamented all the food that had spoiled, grieved over the damage to our beach house and wondered if it could ever be repaired. Even today, I almost feel physically sick when I think of the destruction to our Shagri-La seventy miles from home.
Now, it’s almost Thanksgiving. It’s a time for you to celebrate the bounties of goodness that you have and to share that goodness with others. It’s time to give thanks for what you have, not what you’ve lost. It’s also a time to put things in perspective, even if you are one of the many people who are still displaced and filled with despair over what took place on September 13th. To help you do so, I’d like to share what occurred to my wife and me on the plane coming home from Africa. Harriet sat next to a very nice couple who were sitting directly behind the wife’s mother and father (from England) and in front of their daughter, who sat directly behind them on the plane. Not surprisingly, H struck up a conversation with the woman. They spoke about how life sometimes deals you disappointments and hurts that are hard to swallow. H launched into a discussion of how we had gone to Africa especially to see gorillas in the mountains of Rwanda and to spend a day with Jane Goodall’s chimpanzee families. After traveling all that way, the African agents hired by the travel company in the U. S. failed to buy the permits needed for both activities. Instead, they had us climb a mountain in muck up to our ankles, through a forest dense with vines and thistles and over paths that were difficult to traverse, never to see even one chimpanzee. She went on to add that we were going home to a hurricane that had severely damaged our home in Galveston and flooded part of the first floor of our home in Houston.
The woman sympathized and was nothing but polite. She then began to relate her tale of woe. Essentially, her son, who was attending Texas A&M, was driving home to Houston several weeks before the storm and died in an auto crash. She said they were returning from a memorial service held in a little town in England, where he had grown up and where her parents still resided. In the midst of her story, she began to weep, as did her husband, her parents and her daughter. Suddenly, Harriet found herself handing out tissues to all five of them, no longer concentrating on the losses we had experienced, but, instead, empathizing with and hurting for people who had experienced a loss that is beyond comprehension, the death of a child.
So, it’s all relative. It’s similar to the story of the man who wept because he had no shoes, until he saw a man who had no feet. So, I’d ask that you recall that breath of cool air from your refrigerator and the light that lit up the darkness after the electricity came back on. Then remember what it was like when it was absent. I’d further have you see that, out of every tragedy, there can even be humor. It is best evidenced by what one of my patients, who has an “excessive desire for alcohol”, said about the panic demonstrated by people during the hurricane. “Everyone was crazy, searching for ice. But I don’t know what the clamor was all about. I just drank it straight.” Perhaps that’s what we should think about this Thanksgiving. Not what we lost, but what we have and how we made it through the best we knew how and that best, in most instances, was pretty good.
Think about it. Without TV or radio, it gave you more time to think, less time to hide behind drivvle and an opportunity to discover more about yourself, you desires, your wishes, your goals and how you might go about satisfying them. So, it wasn’t all bad. Good can come from bad things. Actually, you can say that about all of life. Some of the things that we experience can be pretty bad, but the alternative of not having life is far worse.
So, for a moment, during this holiday season, be thankful for what you have, for who you are, and for what you can do to help others who are less fortunate. Lastly, let me say Happy Thanksgiving and best wishes from my home to yours.