“The worst illness of our time is that so many people have to suffer from never being loved.” - Princess Diana
We spent Thanksgiving morning in our sunlit living room, watching our kids read and play and destroy the house. I'd mentioned to Shawn, "We don't really have any Thanksgiving traditions yet, do we?" He agreed, and we somewhat aimlessly headed to our favorite park to take a walk. On our way there, we stopped at the Starbucks drive thru and decided we could get Any Drink We Want. I ordered a decaf coconut milk chestnut praline latte, Shawn got a PSL, and the kids had apple juice boxes. As we pulled up to the window and waited for our grand total, the cashier said, "The gentleman in front of you just paid for your order. Happy Thanksgiving!" It made me want to cry. What a generous, random act of kindness from a complete stranger on a holiday that should be full of just that. We paid for the car behind us and our first Thanksgiving tradition was born. How kind of the Lord.
Later in the day, Liam and I took a special trip to the hospital where I work. Earlier in the week, I had cared for one patient on our floor for several days in a row who's been hospitalized for weeks. He's a pleasant man, and we spent the week talking about Thanksgiving traditions and favorite foods. He mentioned that his favorite dish was to carve out the inside of a sugar pumpkin, fill it with stuffing, then bake it. Personal-sized stuffing-filled sugar pumpkins for all! I also knew from conversations with him that he'd be alone on Thanksgiving. There would be no family and no friends to visit him this year. He seemed nonchalant about it all, but the thought just wouldn't leave me. To me, it doesn't matter if you're the cruelest curmudgeon that ever breathed air... no one should be alone on Thanksgiving.
So I told Liam about my friend at the hospital and we decided to make a visit. Liam made him a card and filled it with every sticker he could find. And I found a little sugar pumpkin.
As Liam walked into the patient's room - a tiny pumpkin in one arm, a handmade card dangling from the other - he looked up shyly and said, "Happy Fanksgiving, sir. I hope you have a great day."
The man was visibly moved. A smile enraptured his face as he held up the card with scraggly writing and said, "You know? I think this might be my favorite Thanksgiving ever."
My heart sang. I felt such a mixture of pride over this brave, beautiful little boy combined with deep sadness when I put myself in the patient's shoes. The one where a mostly bed-bound, mostly alone man orders a tray from a hospital kitchen on what's supposed to be a family- and food-stuffed holiday.
I don't share this story to boast about what we did. I share it because it humbles me. Because I can picture myself in that bed, sick and alone, and I hope that someone might take notice.
As Liam and I got in the car, he was quiet. I asked him, "Do you know why we care about people who are alone?"
"Because those are the people Jesus calls the poor in spirit: those who are discouraged or sad or alone. And those are the people Jesus loves, and He asks us to love and help them, too."
I remember watching Princess Diana from afar as a little girl and noticing how, in so much of the charity work she invested in, she brought along her two little boys. They visited AIDS clinics and gave hugs. Held knobby hands of lepers. Cuddled children whose limbs had been ravaged by land mines. It would have been so much easier to stay home - in a palace, mind you - and remain untouched by such flagrant suffering. Instead, she chose to step out and has left such a legacy of kindness, for her children and for the world.
When Liam finally answered from the backseat, he only had a few words: "Can we go back tomorrow?"
I hope that your Thanksgiving was marked with a simple act of kindness, either given or received. And I hope this holiday season is marked by even more of the same.