One of the greatest parts of the holiday season – both Thanksgiving and Christmas – is eating turkey. I’m not fully certain why that is. If I were honest, I’m not quite sure how fond of turkey I truly am. When choosing between all the many choices of sandwich meats in the deli section I think turkey is actually the last one I consider selecting. In spite of this, there is just something about that silly bird that brings families together at the holiday table. It unites us in a way that would make Benjamin Franklin proud (He thought that it was quite the majestic bird and wanted to make it the national symbol instead of an eagle. I think we can all agree that we made huge mistake there.). Even I – who apparently wouldn’t give it two seconds notice in the magnificent Fred Meyer sandwich meat section – look forward to it with eager anticipation. That’s right folks, the turkey has the power to change lives. I just never knew quite how much power it had…until this year.
As a teacher, I have a certain amount of power – not quite superhero level stuff, but not bad. Yes, I can assign more homework or inspire fear with the ever fateful phrase “pop quiz.” And as we learn in Spiderman “with great power comes great responsibility.” (Or if you’d prefer, it may have also come from some French dude named Voltaire; if you’re into that Enlightenment philosophy stuff. But we’re Americans, so a movie reference just feels right.) So lately I’ve been trying to using my powers for good instead of evil, and I’m sure there are many a student who would call education evil – which may be a discussion for another time.
For the past three years a group of my students and myself have volunteered at the Coeur d’ Alene Food Bank. We’ve helped out in various ways: from organizing food, to painting walls, to doing food drives. and even working at a Walmart carnival – that one caught me off guard too. But my favorite opportunity is when we get to help out with Thanksgiving. Last week was our chance to get to bless people who have little to be thankful for in a time of thanks. Our task was simple. People come to pick up a Thanksgiving dinner, and we carry the meal to the car for them; a frozen turkey and a bag full of Thanksgiving goodies like cranberries and potatoes. It’s not exactly the most difficult task in the world. In fact, as you’d expect, it is rather simple and borderline unnecessary. Yet, each year I find myself to be more touched than the people’s lives that I interact with. My perception is always that I’m there to affect them, but it is they who rock that boat every year.
The people I had the privilege to serve were consistently more honest than any single group I can recall interacting with. They had no problems sharing their struggles with us. I heard stories about unemployment, financial woes, and family troubles. And I was only with them long enough to walk from a short tent to a parking lot not 50 feet away. A hug was also a rather common occurrence, which was really challenging because several of us were very strict “bubble” – aka anti-hug – people. Yet, it was interesting to see the affect that their affection had on us. Each time we would drop off the stuff in the car, we would give them what felt like a simple “Happy Thanksgiving,” “God Bless,” or “Happy Holidays.” Feels like something easy and quite routine, right? I’ve worked in retail long enough to know when to throw that out there. And that’s just what it oftentimes feels like; a throwaway. But with the people I saw on Friday it was so much more than that. Every time I would say “have a happy Thanksgiving” the individual stopped, looked at me, and returned the phrase with much more gravitas than I had mustered for my impartation. I said it; they meant it. To me it was just a turkey being put into the back of a Ford Taurus, but to them it was an act of genuine kindness. A hand of compassion in a time of struggle.
They felt it was I who was giving to them, but as I reflect upon a short afternoon of carrying turkeys in the snow I realize that it was I who was given the gift. Give this holiday season. Give of your time, but more than that, give of your heart. A simple act of kindness goes further than we can ever know. Carry a turkey to someone’s car, and see how it changes your world. It sure sounds simple. But you’ll forever sing the praises of the turkey that had the ability to give far more than you could ever take from it.