The Thanksgiving holiday for many means time off from work spent at home with loved ones and a large meal to mark the occasion. But commentator William Holston notes some aren’t as thankful for that and more as they could be.
I recently prepared a case for trial for a young woman from Eritrea. Sitting around the table were people with family members in prison because of their faith. My client’s brother was a notably positive person. His young daughter was then in prison in Eritrea.
When I commented on his joyful attitude, he replied, "You Americans have everything and you complain all the time.”
I’m afraid that’s true. The fact that we have so much does not typically lead us to be thankful, but rather to be discontent that we don’t have more. My client’s words were a reminder that in most ways we do have everything. That is one of the advantages of my position at Human Rights Initiative of North Texas. I get to work with refugees to our country who constantly remind me being thankful is a choice not based on circumstances.
We have freedoms almost unparalleled in the world. We complain about our political system, but we have the ability and right to change our government, should we choose to be involved and vote.
Each Sunday, on the way to church I drive past an Eritrean church and an Egyptian Coptic Church. I know people attending these churches were jailed and beaten simply for where they chose to worship in their home country. It’s a reminder of a freedom I exercise without restraint every week. We have rights to express our opinions that are almost unlimited. I once reminded my young son at a protest march that in many places in the world, people would be shot for what we were doing.
I started writing a journal years ago after my mother died. I recently started journaling each day things that I am thankful for. Being thankful requires some perspective. Despite the troubled economy most of us have more than most of the world dares to even hope for. My modest house is a mansion compared to where many people in the world find shelter. I have plenty of healthy food to eat, and ready access to medical care.
I used to take being with my wife Jill for granted. This year I saw a former asylum client reunited with his wife and children. He’d been separated from her for years because he was forced to flee Ethiopia for his life. I go home to my wife every day. Her brush with breast cancer makes me cherish the time even more.
I’m thankful for meaningful work. People do not always have the luxury of finding work that is fulfilling. Some are forced by circumstance to do menial things for money. I’m reminded that work is a blessing by our asylum clients, most of whom are prohibited from working for the up to two years it takes them to go to trial.
This year I’ve chosen to be thankful for very subtle things. When I hike on a hot day I take a moment to appreciate a cold drink of water, remembering that people all over the world die from the lack of safe drinking water. A very simple snack of fresh fruit and cheese is a rare feast in many places.
Being thankful has benefits. According to researcher Robert Emmons of University of California at Davis, the simple act of keeping a gratitude journal has a measurable impact on levels of happiness, as well as better quality sleep. So this Thanksgiving, take some time to create a list of what you are thankful for? You may find it’s a long list.
William Holston is an attorney from Dallas.