A Thanksgiving Reflection
A reflection for thanksgiving from our CEO and President, Bruce Wilkinson.
During the 30 or so years I lived outside the USA in Africa and Europe, I developed a deeper appreciation for our Thanksgiving tradition. I can still remember my early Peace Corps years in Ghana, where I missed my family terribly around Thanksgiving. I also remember my Ghanain colleagues asking me to explain the essence of the Thanksgiving holiday. I am sure I did a very poor job. Rather than explain the sentiments and culture surrounding the tradition, I rambled on about history, the family logistics, the food and of course, American football. I totally missed the point.
Thanksgiving, in essence, is none of the former. At its core, Thanksgiving is about identity. Deep meaning. It’s an expression of gratitude coming from deep within our person towards another. Strip away the turkey and the pigskin and what do we have left? A group of poor struggling immigrants expressing their gratitude towards amazingly generous hosts. An established society embracing newcomers. I too know what it feels like to be a newcomer, seeking my way forward in strange lands, cultures, and people. I too have felt and expressed deep gratitude for the many who helped me find a home away from home.
Many years later in my humanitarian career I took up residence in Zambia to help with the HIV/Aids crisis. I use the word ‘crisis’ because that is what it was. Over 20 percent of adults were HIV positive, roads leading to cemeteries were blocked with mourners, over 20% of children orphaned. A society in crisis.
Yet, my Thanksgiving moment in Zambia was to witness the formation of 23,000 community volunteers who mobilized their communities into action. Going house by house, these volunteers convinced people to go for testing, to access the medications, fight stigma, and begin to rebuild their society one family at a time.
Those infected called it the Lazarus effect. Quickly they were back in the game, working and caring for their families. Thanksgiving was the operative word, culture, and feeling between clients and their caregivers. I experienced countless times the deep expression of gratitude between client and their caregiver. Once again, those who are struggling being assisted by those more established.
At the end of the my Peace Corps service, I still remember the advice we were given about re-entry into our home culture. They highlighted that if ever we felt like we just didn’t fit in, then we should go and volunteer. This Thanksgiving, perhaps I should go and do likewise and just maybe I will be more grateful or at least find those who are.
So it is in this spirit, laying aside all the ‘trappings’ of Thanksgiving, that I strive to express gratitude to others who have helped with my journey. And if I fail to find the will, I will at least go and volunteer to be with others who are.