Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Living Thanks

“We count our miseries carefully and accept our blessings without much thought.”
– Chinese Proverb

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Last week I talked about thankfulness in the context of the adventure gaming hobby. As we sit down this week to our individual Thanksgiving celebrations with friends and family, I offer my annual plea – modified a little more each year – encouraging readers to demonstrate our gratefulness for the many gifts enriching our lives, manifesting our thankful spirits through positive actions to enhance the lives of others, especially those who are not so fortunate.

I can never be truly thankful enough for all the gifts I enjoy. It’s easy to demonstrate gratitude for outright gifts, the ones we receive at the holidays and birthdays or the gestures of generosity shown between gamers and friends. But it’s easy to take for granted the many aspects of our lives that enable us to have the spare income and time to pursue our adventure gaming hobby...and even there I’m particularly lucky, given the many gamers who still engage in the hobby despite personal and financial difficulties. During this season of Thanksgiving – and especially in our daily lives when we don’t have holidays to remind us – we should not simply express our thanks, we should act on our gratitude.

As I write this my five year-old son is sprawled on a pile of pillows on the living room floor, dozing peacefully while PBS Kids programs dance gleefully across the television screen. We have a comfortable house. My wife has a steady job in her chosen career field, one that enables Dad to stay home to be there for the Little Guy when he’s home from school and to pursue his adventure gaming writing and design activities. We’re not well off, but we’re doing okay.

So many people in the world, both overseas and around the corner, are not doing okay.

The world remains tormented by the worst refugee crisis since World War II, made worse by nations and politicians critical of refugees seeking not simply a better life, but any life at all. Many who once enjoyed stability and prosperity have had their lives torn apart by drought, political turmoil, and other factors over which they have little control. Many have fled for their lives and the lives of their children with little more that what they could carry; fled into a wasteland of uncertainty, an expensive and dangerous journey, a desolation of uncaring foreign countries, a wilderness of contempt from those who take for granted the luxury of posting callous comments on the internet and all the comforts that accompany that level of prosperity.

Many people in our own country and communities need our help, too. People across town don’t have a place to live, regular meals to eat, or jobs to earn a living. The mentally ill remain stigmatized and neglected. Homeless families are reviled because they find shelter and comfort in the wrong neighborhoods (in a church, no less). Personal and financial tragedy wreaks havoc on lives without warning or recourse.

If I’m painting too bleak a picture of the world, take a moment and reflect on the blessings in your own life.

Like so many positive messages holidays promote, we really should remain thankful throughout the year; beyond that, we should often engage in positive actions based on our gratefulness to help our fellow humans in need, to give them something for which they can truly feel thankful. In our family we try budgeting money for charitable giving, both at home and abroad. We give a small amount to Heifer International each month. Occasionally we’ve donated to friends in need through such crowdfunding platforms as GoFundMe.com and DonorsChoose.org. We drop off cans for food drives by various local organizations to stock the food pantry in town. And I try to generously support raffles at the local Williamsburg wargaming conventions I attend; I rarely win the game items I bid on, but I take comfort knowing my donation helps local veterans programs. It’s not much – it’ll never be enough – but it’s our very small way of acting on our gratitude.

In this season of thanksgiving – on the eve of the season of light-within-the-darkness – let us reflect on the many gifts we enjoy, both simple and extravagant, and commit to investing some of those in making our world a more positive place for our neighbors in need everywhere.

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“In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer


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