Guyon: The Gratitude of Giving

Nov 26, 2013

For the first time since I became a mom 16 years ago, my kids and I won’t be together for Thanksgiving, as they’ll be with their dad’s family this year.

When he first suggested the idea, I thought I couldn’t possibly be away from my kids on such a special day - but then I realized that spending time with their one living grandparent was of course a top priority, so I agreed.

Making peace with the idea was one thing - however, figuring out what to do with myself was another. Happily, I’ve turned cranberries into cranberry juice, so to speak. I’ll be with friends in the evening and I have another idea for this Thanksgiving Day, based on a very sweet memory.

Years ago, before I became a mom, one of my volunteering jobs in San Francisco was delivering meals to home-bound AIDS patients for an organization called Project Open Hand. I had lost many friends to the disease and this was one small way I could make life a little easier for those still struggling to survive.

Every interaction was different and each had its own reward. Sometimes it was just a conversation at the door about the weather or how their day was going - a brief exchange that provided a few moments of connection to the outside world.

The most poignant and powerful delivery experiences were the most brief, when the door simply opened and a hand reached out for the container. I would wish the person within a good day and a good appetite, and tell them I’d see them next week - even though I knew very well that I may never see that hand again.

Depending on the time of year, I’d try to bring something special to put on top of the container before going to the door. In the spring and summer, it might be flowers from my garden. During December, it was usually candy canes. The weeks leading up to Thanksgiving were always the hardest, because I knew it was very tough for them to feel gratitude in light of what they were enduring. Still, I’d bring things like chocolate turkeys or cranberry muffins.

Then one day, in my rush to get to work, I forgot to bring anything special and so, trying to think fast, I pulled a few small branches of colorful maple leaves off a tree in front of my house, and put a sprig on top of each container.

At one address, after the customary hand had carefully accepted the meal, the door remained ajar and a quiet voice said, “I love autumn. It’s my favorite season. Thank you.“ A week later, nobody came to that door and the address was removed from my list.

That work was one of the most soulful experiences of my life. So this year, I’ve signed up to serve and deliver meals to my community here in Vermont. I’m so thankful for the opportunity - and hope to do it on a regular basis, with my kids.