A Holiday Story
There are five siblings in my family and we are very close despite the age differences and the fact that we are very rarely all in the same time zone. My sister and her husband have lived in several different countries due to work, but they had the wisdom to build a beautiful country farmhouse in Umbria, Italy for their retirement when the time came. We have mini reunions for the five of us every two years and so it came to be that we all journeyed there one Thanksgiving eight years ago to celebrate.
My brother Ivan, who is as discriminating an eater as a voracious eater can be, was concerned about the availability of turkeys in Italy. As it turns out they have an abundance of the birds and they also have a squash that does an excellent impression of a pumpkin pie. We were excited about the meal and invited a local couple with whom we’d become fast friends (he Italian and she American) to join us. My father also came down from Sweden and my brother Ben brought his youngest son Henry, aged six. Henry was not the kind of child the least bit put off by the prospect of hanging out with adults for a week. His was a different childhood up to that point. A birth defect had damaged is left leg which left it shorter by a few inches even after two surgeries. Still, he was as angelic as any child could be. Curly blond hair and blue eyes with a captivating smile, he was also a character.
That evening as the ten of us gathered at the table, the ambiance was a fantastic blend of an American tradition and the old world. Lots of candlelight, a fire, the table looking very Norman Rockwell-ish, it was perfect. After my sister, the hostess, gave a lovely toast my brother, the one with the four-chamber stomach, was ready to pounce. At that moment, Henry piped up and said; ‘Aren’t we going to say what we are thankful for?’ There was a dramatic silence as everyone immediately felt like crawling under their napkins. My sister rebounded with; ‘What an excellent idea Henry. Why don’t we take turns sharing what we are grateful for?’ My brother Ivan sensing a delay in gustatorial pursuits went first and said: ‘I can’t really think of anything’. Henry simply responded: “You can’t think of aaaannnything? Have you ever had to stay in a hospital? Have you ever had a best friend? Did your Mom ever read you a great story?” We were all quite humbled by the simple eloquence of the six-year old in our midst. No dry eyes were to be found and it led to a truly beautiful experience together as a family.
And here we are in the midst of another holiday season and gratitude is more relevant than ever. But, while it is important to acknowledge our good fortune, the real moral obligation is to show our gratitude through action. We are used to this at Rotary because a lot of the work we do, whether volunteering or otherwise supporting worthy causes, is basically thankfulness in practice. This is especially true when we look outside our families and friends to the many strangers in our midst who struggle and need help. They are the reason we are grateful, as much for the opportunity to help others as it is for the way in which we have chosen to express that thankfulness. In such particularly stressful times as these, all of us adults in the room could certainly benefit from the lessons offered by a wise six-year old.