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Elizabeth Cook: Thanksgiving, time to adjust attitude

My “must get this done” mind set came to a screeching halt Wednesday night.

I had pulled out some inspirational books in search of Thanksgiving prayers to use on Saturday’s Faith page. I thought some readers might like to have a grateful prayer on hand to share around the turkey this week. Not everyone is comfortable winging it on these special occasions.

It was another thing to check off my mental to-do list.

Then I started reading.

“O God, when I have food, help me to remember the hungry;

“When I have work, help me to remember the jobless;

“When I have a home, help me to remember those who have no home at all.”

The to-do list fell by the wayside that evening. Instead I thought about those words, written by Samuel F. Pugh, and looked for more prayers like them. It was the best assignment I’d given myself in awhile.

There are a lot of ways to be brought to your senses and reminded how lucky you are. Perhaps you’ve heard some form of this saying from a Persian poet, Sa’di:

“Once, when my feet were bare, and I had not the means of obtaining shoes I came to the chief of Kufah in a state of much dejection, and saw there a man who had no feet. I returned thanks to God and acknowledged his mercies, and endured my want of shoes with patience.”

The local poverty rate is coming down, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In the city of Salisbury, it has fallen from 28 percent to 23 percent — still too high, but moving in a hopeful direction.

It’s easy to overlook poverty, to avoid the places where it thrives.

I spent some time recently posting and giving out flyers about the Christmas Bureau, which takes applications for Christmas Happiness, the Salvation Army Angel Tree, Toys for Tots, Operation Santa and Project Santa. These groups help families provide gifts for their children at Christmas if they don’t have money for luxuries themselves.

The last day to apply for help is Saturday, Dec. 6, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Hurley YMCA.

For some people, $30 would not scratch the surface of what they give their kids at Christmas. But for people who can’t pay rent, much less buy toys, a $30 gift card — what Christmas Happiness gives — is a lot of money.

Some people dump $30 worth of magazines in the recycling bin each month.

If you make the rounds at places where people might need help buying a $30 toy, you’ll see some things. Laundry billowing on the clothesline at a housing project. Overflowing parking lots at Rowan Helping Ministries, Social Services and the Health Department. And much more.

Thanksgiving brings back memories of visiting my grandparents, eating with my dad’s family in the early afternoon and my mom’s family in the evening.

Groan.

Granddaddy was a bit of a showman, slicing into the turkey with everyone watching. I remember mashed sweet potatoes stuffed into orange skins, green beans, aspic salad, coconut cake. If we talked about what we were thankful for, I don’t remember it. My sisters and cousins and I focussed on eating as quickly as possible — consuming as few vegetables as we could get away with — and taking off to play.

We said “yes, ma’am” and “no, ma’am,”  “please” and “thank you.”

But real gratitude — authentic “oh my gosh, how could I be so fortunate” gratitude — came later, much later. In fact, I might not be fully there yet. Sometimes the things you think you want get in the way. I mean, doesn’t everyone have granite counter tops?

It’s easy to forget about people who have no kitchen or house at all.

Sometimes I’ll step outside at night with the dog and look up at the moon, peeking through the trees. Somehow, it turns into a moment of thankfulness, an unspoken prayer that raises my eyes up from the “must get this done” busy-ness of the day to something pure and beautiful.

Life is good. It is not always easy and seldom is it fair. But life is good. This year I think I’ll just be thankful for that.

Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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