Next week, I hope each of you will pause at your Thanksgiving table, before burying your faces in assorted carbs, to ask your fellow diners to name something or someone they are thankful for this year. In addition to family, friends, America and pie, here are some of my unconventional candidates for thanks and continued blessings this year. May God bless us one and all.
I am thankful for soldiers carrying rice.
The half a million homeless Filipinos and the millions still wandering in shock amid the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan have many nations expressing support in words. America has, as always, expressed support not only in words but also in rice and water and tents and medicine.
As with the Indonesian earthquake and tsunami a decade ago, many of the people who've brought this life-saving assistance to a broken land are personnel from our 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade who arrived just days after the typhoon and in advance of the U.S. Navy operating off the immense aircraft carrier USS George Washington, home base to more than 6,000 sailors. They left all their jets in Japan so they could load more helicopters and rice on the carrier.
American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are unloading more than relief supplies. They're unloading hope. This is the America I know and love, and these men and women are the reason America is different from many other nations — not because of our strong arm but because of our outstretched hands. I am thankful for our troops even when war does not call them.
I am thankful for hospice workers.
I have buried too many people recently. Most of them died in the care of hospice workers. Their families wanted to care for them until their last breaths, but this was almost always impossible.
The families could not always stop their lives and their work to care for the dying, nor were they qualified to administer the palliative care and pain medications needed to ease their loved ones' final agonies. More than this, hospice workers provide strength, support and, above all else, loving permission to let the patient go.
I have been with many dying people, and it always takes me time to recover from being in the presence of a soul as it separates from the body. These holy hospice workers do this all the time, with sensitive and compassionate hearts. I don't know how they can protect their hearts, but I'm thankful they do. They are angels sent to live among us so that our souls can live forever near the God who sent them.
I am thankful for animal shelter workers.
Many of us will eat Thanksgiving dinner in the presence of beloved family pets waiting for us to drop a piece of turkey or stuffing near their imploring eyes. But this Thanksgiving, like every other, thousands of dogs and cats will watch the world through cages in animal shelters. Their only contact with people who care about them will be shelter staff.
These workers do more than change the pets' water and clean their cages. They speak in comforting tones. They make hopeful sounds. They wordlessly remind these frightened and abandoned animals that life does not have to be this way forever. They remind them that some people are better than those they've known so far in their harried and halting lives.
May we all become better. May we rescue these pets and take them home to a life of hugs and dropped turkey. May we remember to thank the shelter workers who are busy caring for the new animals in their old cages. If God ever judges us, may God visit an animal shelter first.
I am thankful for tree trimmers.
There are men in the trees near my home cutting dead and low-hanging branches in advance of winter storms that might send debris crashing down on power lines, interrupting my Internet service and other things necessary to life as I've become addicted to living it.
I asked one of them why they always trim in the fall, and he told me that tree trimmers would not cut down a tree in the spring or summer that might have a bird's nest and baby birds in it.
"It would be bad luck," he told me. The man who said this was not a philosopher or poet, but he knew a great truth, that sometimes our needs and our growling machines must stop to let a little bird grow up and fly. I am thankful for tree trimmers and the virtue they possess in knowing that not everything is business.
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