Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving And Its Gift To Me

Now, I have only been here in SoCal for a couple years, but I feel like it has given me so much. What am I thankful for? My wife, God, my family, animals, nature... the list can go on and on. I am also thankful for a great job and an opportunity to share my photography with the world.

Since last year, I have mentioned to my wife that I wanted to give back to our community. So, I called around and found out that St. Anne's church in Seal Beach needed volunteers to help serve hot meals on Thanksgiving. Kymberli and I didn't know what to expect as this was our first time helping out with something of this magnitude.

Let me just say that today was one of the best days of my life. It taught me that the human spirit is strong, beautiful and best of all thankful. We started out by setting out silverware and putting paper on the tables to protect them. We saw parents bring in their kids to volunteer, the 'Tiara Girls" came (about 10-15 of them) and a gentleman who is 85 and just wanted to help share Thanksgiving with people. We met a few more new people and then waited for the people to show up. Most of the people were 'youngsters' from a local elderly community called Leisure World. They were not only happy to share the day, but boy were they characters. They wanted to put a smile on our faces as much as we wanted to do it for them. We brought them coffee or juice and they couldn't believe how polite we were being. (I thought to myself - I don't understand why people aren't like this more often).

*To make sure everyone knows, the food and drink is all donated by Seal Beach merchants who want to give back to the people who make their business work. One guy showed up with a vehicle full of loaves of fresh bread, donuts and other breads for each person to take when they left. Amazing.*

We met a homeless man that will forever change my outlook on life. His nametag said "Otis" and he was the sweetest man I have ever met. He sat all by himself at a table and radiated happiness. When we started talking to him he lit up even more. He told us of the bridge he lives under and that he hadn't eaten a meal in 2 days. Work had been slow for 4 days and he had been told by some friends that he should go to St. Anne's on Thanksgiving. He said over and over, "Thank you so much for having me." He said how thankful he was to have a place to go to get some food and best of all - kind words from people he had never met before. I kept shaking his hand and I told him that it was our pleasure to share a day with someone and to be able to share a warm meal. His outlook on life was something you had to hear to believe. Here was a man with no home, no job, with nothing but a backpack and a sleeping bag under a bridge and he didn't ask for a thing. He said he was thankful and that was all he needed. Now, I don't usually share my feelings like this, but damn - this man had nothing and didn't complain. I know that other families get together on Thanksgiving and instead of being thankful they eat the equivalent of 3 meals each at one sitting and complain about their lives, their jobs, their kids, and I could go on and on. Otis, you are one of a kind and thank YOU for giving me a new outlook on things.

We were called into the kitchen and given our tasks. Kymberli was on turkey detail and I was dishing out stuffing. The assembly line was great. Turkey > Yams > Mashed Potatoes > Creamed Corn > Stuffing > Gravy and then it was served. We served over 120 meals in less than 9 minutes!! That amazes even me, but we were cranking the plates out. Once we finished serving everyone we were given a plate and told to eat a meal ourselves. I felt a bit guilty eating because I remembered back to Thanksgivings past and how much I would eat. Gluttony - yikes. So I made sure to put a little bit of each thing on my plate, but not too much. We sat right at the table with the homeless and it was great to see the smiles and thanks for a warm meal. Even when we were eating we didn't want to stop serving them. We asked them if they wanted more and we got them more. Kymberli even got a plate full of food and wrapped it up for a guy named Angelo. Only when he got up to leave did we realize he was a veteran of the Korean War and had three medals on his hat. As we looked around there were more and more veterans there that were homeless. This makes me very sad. How can we send people over to war and not take care of them?

I am sitting here with watery eyes as I type this. When we finished eating we started cleaning up and helping where we could. From the kitchen I saw my wife talking with two homeless gentlemen who had just come in and sat down. She came in and asked me to help her get two plates of food for these guys. We loaded them up and brought them out to them. They joy in their eyes is something you will never, ever know unless you do something like this once in your life. I can't even describe it to you. I felt like we were doing something that we were meant to do. We watched them eat for a few seconds and knew they were hungry, so we went back into the kitchen to make a plate for them to take with them to go. When we gave them their plates, one of the guys looks at my wife and says, "I am about to cry." We told him that it was great to have him there and to eat up, enjoy it and make sure they got some pie. They both said thank you more times than I can count. I didn't need a thank you, but it sure felt good. It also felt good to take time out of my schedule and show others that they are loved and wanted and that we know that hard times can hurt, but if you keep an open mind you can find some warmth. Whether it be in a warm meal, a warm handshake or a warm bed, you can always find warmth someplace. If only more people would share it.

We cleaned up and said our goodbyes and everyone said they were happy we showed up and to please come back next year. You can bet on that!

So, the next time you say you are starving, or hate your job, or want 10,000 thread count sheets - think about Otis. He'll show you what starving means. He'll gladly take your job for some work, a paycheck and some shelter. He'll also show you that 10,000 thread count sheets might be nice, but they won't keep you as warm as a sleeping bag behind a tarp under a bridge when the wind is blowing. So be thankful for what you have and enjoy the people around you. Take a step back when you feel unhappy about the way things are turning out. You may as well be happy in what you have because at that particular moment nothing is going to change. Not unless you do something about it. No point in complaining - it won't help. Say thank you to the people around you. YOU might not think it makes a difference, but to the guy bagging your groceries or the guy cleaning the toilets in a public restroom it does.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Everyone should do this at least one time during their lives. It will change the way you think.

1 comment:

kymberli q. said...

Wow. I experienced this day with you but now I am crying again. The way you described Otis and Angelo killed me. It was perfect. Angelo was a sweet soul and he reminded me of my dad in a way. Not wanting people to go to too much trouble for him, but when given something, really was humbled and appreciated it.

It's a shame that we've had better encounters with those people in a few minutes than we've had with some in a few months. That's all I will say about that...

But yes, our government... ugh. People fight for our country, some even get Purple Hearts (Troy), but then are homeless. Yes, I know that people can choose to help themselves but when I think about our President not going to war and sitting in a warm environment having a very nice turkey dinner, I'm sure, and then when I think about Angelo GOING to war and eating dinner amongst strangers... it breaks my heart. :(