2013, you have a tough act to follow.
This week marked my second month in Curacao…two months since I decided to pack my Manhattan life into two oversized bags and come down to a small island in the Caribbean with 150,000 people. I have a lot to be grateful for for the past year. I finished graduate school in May. I had an amazing opportunity this summer to work in New York city working in journalism. I met some of the most amazing individuals I’ve ever encountered in the last year, not the least of which includes the man I am very much in love with.
But rather than engage in the typical “Top Ten Things To Be Thankful For” laundry-list, itemized style of reminiscing over the things and the people that have made me happy in the last year, I wonder if there is another, deeper way to look at this time of the year. Especially as I spend Thanksgiving away from my family for only the second time ever in my life.
How do you define being “thankful”? Like what is thankfulness? Who can tell me what a “thank” anyway? If we don’t know what it is, how can we be full of it? Or how can we give it away every fourth Thursday of November?
I find myself right now looking up the definition of gratitude, or the “readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Thankfulness means “expressing gratitude and relief”. Other words synonymous to gratitude (according to my Mac’s Oxford Dictionary) include “recognition”, “acknowledgement”, and “credit.”
My mind keeps focusing on the word “acknowledgement”. To me acknowledgement is slightly above “being aware” of something, but rather is a public expression an awareness of a kind action, of support, or of a good deed.
I think we can do better than mere acknowledgment. We can go beyond the blanket Facebook and Twitter declarations of thanks for friends and family.
There are the big things like, the man who offers you his umbrella when you’re stranded in the rain. Your classmate that offers to help you study for the next exam when you were sick for lectures that week. Maybe we are more thankful when strangers who have no ties to us offer to help us.
But what about the people close to us? The parents who dutifully call you a few times a week “just to check up on you”? The girlfriend who still loves you despite your oddities and quirks? The close pals you can count on to be with you through thick and thin, relationships and break ups, and who are always down for happy hours and karaoke? Do we recognize kindnesses that we see on a day to day basis?
Take the time this Thanksgiving to tell your friends and family, individually if you can, not just that you are thankful for them, but why you are thankful for them. What is it about who they are and what they do that has impacted your life so much? Write to a friend and tell her how much her support and good humor over the last few months while you were going through rough times helped you. Write to your mentor and tell them how much you appreciate their time, and their wisdom, and their willingness to invest in your future success. Tell your employees how much you value their hard work. And of course, most of us can never thank our parents enough for giving us life, but today, you can try.
Lastly, we should all strive to be someone that others would be thankful to have in their lives. As we give thanks for what others have been to us, or done for us, we should continuously aim to do for others, and to be for others, the best we can. Beyond being thankful for what we have achieved, or the material things we have acquired in the past calendar year, let us remember that the people who seem to have the most in their lives are the ones who are the most freely giving of themselves, their time, their energy and their love to others.
I have an 8-year old who lives near us and who has been a big part of my time here in Curacao. I’ll call her “Alice”. Alice is one of the prettiest girls I have ever seen. She has skin the color of honeyed hazelnut, and light olive green eyes. Alice’s mother is an illegal immigrant from Jamaica who worked as a hotel maid until she lost her job a few weeks ago. Since then, Alice’s mom pretty much stays inside and plays on Facebook or goes out with her boyfriend, aslo a Jamaican. Alice is an only child and doesn’t have anyone to play with when she comes home from school. “My mom doesn’t have time for me,” Alice tells me. “She would rather be on the computer than play with me.” Because of Alice’s mom’s illegal status, and the fact that Alice is unregistered here in Curacao, her mother does not like for her to walk to her friends’ houses nearby for fear that she may be discovered and deported.
So my boyfriend and I often hang out with Alice. We’ve taken her to Adventure City, a place for kids with arcade games, bumper cars, and prizes that kids can win. We help her with her math and Dutch homework sometimes, we watch bootleg movies together, and when her family doesn’t have enough money for food, I make sure to cook extra to give Alice a plate. In return, she draws us pictures that we proudly display on our fridge, helps me with my Papiamentu, and brings me beautlful sea glass that she collects on the beach.
One thing that Alice seems obsessed with is making beds. If my boyfriend or I am home, the first thing she does is knock on our door to ask to ask us if she can “spread the bed”.
Yeah, sure, knock yourself out, kid.
After several bed-spreading requests, I asked Alice last week why she was so obsessed with making the bed.
“Well, if I want to work in a hotel, then I have to learn to spread the bed really, really good. So I want to start practicing now so that later, I can be really, really good at it and make beds nice,” Alice replied enthusiastically.
I was floored.
Her reply really hit me hard. Here was an 8 year old girl getting a head start on her hotel maid career. It is true that in Curacao, many cleaning ladies are Jamaican. I realize that that is probably all Alice has seen to aspire to be as a Jamaican on this island. I struggled with wanting more for her, to tell her, Youre EIGHT YEARS OLD. You should be wanting to be an actress, a singer, a scientist, a dancer, a model, or gosh, even a princess!
Is being able to dream about those things a privilege? I don’t know. All I know is that I’m not Alice’s mother, and as much as my well-meaning and softhearted boyfriend thinks we should adopt her and take her out of her situation, we cannot. Instead of being sad about it, I tell him we should be thankful and grateful for the chance that we have gotten to know Alice, who, despite her circumstances, is a cheerful, sweet, sensitive, and intelligent child.
And that’s beautiful.
“‘Do’ or ‘Do Not’…there is no ‘try’.” – Yoda
“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” -Maya Angelou
“The more you love your decisions, the less you need others to love them.” -Unknown
“The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.” – Albert Einstein
Will Heaven have good Wi-Fi?
There is in true beauty, as in courage, something which narrow souls cannot dare to admire.