Holidays and Luck

It’s official!  We’ve fully entered the Picasso-esque holiday season with its cubist arrangements of gorging, restraint, clamor and thoughts of others.  Seems the older I get, the less I like loud noises and audio clutter and fast paced things—I’ll take the more reflective, thank you.  I prefer “Little Drummer Boy” over “Jingle Bell Rock.”  And it turns out that reflecting and appreciating things is healthy.

Recently I scanned several stories about how we benefit from taking regular time to thoughtfully acknowledge our blessings.  “Gratitude, it turns out, makes you happier and healthier.” (“The Neuroscience of Why Gratitude Makes Us Healthier”— Daily Good, Oct. 13, 2013)  A chunk of this has to do with turning our focus outward, away from preoccupation with and internalizing the scores of bad news and negative stories and words that surround us, and instead taking a little time to reference some of the positive things in our lives.  As I thought about this, I found myself thinking about how lucky I have been throughout my life, beginning with the parents I was given.  And then I started thinking about the folks I see in this Shelter, and about the complexities and the innumerable events and human interactions that get each of us to where we are this day.  I started reflecting about the choices we make, the “toolboxes” we’re given, and where luck enters in, good or bad.  I remember…

There are so many memories.  More than a couple hundred simply about hitchhiking.  Too many about driving under the influence.  Some memories pretty light and funny, like the time I had cut a couple weeks’ worth of college English classes and walked into the room to find out there was a test scheduled for that day and was able to turn and jump out the first floor window just ahead of the professor’s entrance.  And a terrible morning when my roommate, after a night in which we both had had too much to drink, looked at me w/ a pale face and bleary eyes and in a halting monotone said, “I can’t remember whether or not I ran that old guy over.”  We watched and read every news story for days, finally relaxing our vigilance after a couple of weeks—but I bet he still thinks of that night even now.

And so when I consider my position in this Shelter, and I watch the coming and going of 500 guests and another 1,500 individual and family day visitors a year, I reflect on all the luck I have been given.  It starts with the DNA and the parents I got.  I could have found myself an orphaned kid in a refugee camp in Turkey.  And then I can go on to the many things for which I can experience genuine gratitude.

We do a lot of classifying in our society, usually in the form of two, opposing characteristics.  Good or bad, hard working or lazy—you know.  There are clearly choices people have made about how they view this shelter and people experiencing homelessness.  Too much of the political commentary I have heard over the most recent few years doesn’t sound like it acknowledges real differences in people’s capacity or luck.  Yes, we should strive to set examples about the benefits of hard work, and we should look for ways to present meaningful opportunities for people to contribute and take risks and experience a life in the broader community that the rest of us have.  We should insist on limits and compliance that respects the resources of others.  We should celebrate risk taking, and responsibility, and initiative, and hard work!  And we should be slow to judge, and give ourselves the gift of reflecting on those things and people for whom we are grateful.  And maybe even take a moment to wonder, what do “they” have to be grateful for?  How lucky are they?

Peace, Merry Christmas, and happy all religious celebrations and cultural remembrances!