Giving Thanks

Jerry L. Shultz

Thanksgiving was upon us once again and, as an American tradition, it is one of my favorite holidays of the year. Growing up as a poor kid on a Pennsylvania farm, I have plenty to be thankful for and I want to share with you what Thanksgiving means to me.

Most Americans give thanks, this day, for all we have, and then completely take for granted the other 364 days of the year. For most, it is just a delicious banquet of turkey and a day off from work. To me, it is also a delicious banquet of the soul. Let me elaborate.

Thanksgiving connects me to the generations of Americans who came before us and the strife and struggles they endured. In addition to the ritual of food and the embrace of family and loved ones, Thanksgiving has always served as a time of contemplation and gratitude.

My life is not so bad, in the grand scheme of things. Yours probably isn’t either. We all gripe and complain at the silliest of things but, in perspective, it is not so bad at all. For example, let’s take a look at our neighbors at our southern borders.

In Havana, Cuba, the infrastructure has not been maintained since 1956. There is no plumbing. Water is pumped from trucks to roof-top tanks. Sewage drains into the streets. Electricity, when it does work, is hand-strung from dwelling to dwelling. People live in cave-like condos they have carved out of rubble. Families are often raised in rooms as small as our bathrooms. Havana is 90 miles south of our border. In a fast boat, they could be here in several hours. Many risk their lives to do so.

Several years ago, I toured the California border between Mexico and the USA. Looking south from the fence, I saw nothing but poverty, dirt roads, slums, trash and a depressing, dry, brown landscape. Turning to the north, I saw green and landscaped terrain, paved streets, modern buildings, and a thriving economy. Standing at that border was like looking at two different worlds, yet they were just a few feet apart. One can understand why people from south of us risk their lives to enter our country.

If you are thankful for nothing else this day, be thankful that you are an American and were not born south of our borders.

A few days ago, I met a homeless man pushing a shopping cart in the KFC parking lot near Bellflower Boulevard and Spring Street. He was smiling and whistling a happy tune as he and his little brown dog meandered across the asphalt. I was intrigued by his demeanor and stopped to say hello. We exchanged pleasantries and he revealed that he had lost his job and, as a result, lost his apartment.

I asked him, in view of his predicament, why he seemed to be so contented with life, considering that he was living on the streets. More specifically, I asked him what he was thankful for today and he responded: “My dog. He is my only friend.” He continued, as he pulled a partially eaten sandwich from his dirty jeans: “My sandwich, it will feed me and my dog today.” Finally, he added: “My cart. Everything I own is in here. But there are people who are worse off than me.”

I gave him a sleeping bag, a toiletry kit, and a Subway gift card and wished him well. As I drove away, I couldn’t help but reflect on his perspective of being thankful for little things that most of us take for granted and that he considered himself better off than other homeless.

And so, today, I am reminded of, and celebrate, those qualities of my life for which I am thankful. I will share them with you here. Make a list of your own. Carry them in your heart all year, and all your years to come are guaranteed to be more peaceful, loving, and abundant. I am thankful for:

My health – for without it, nothing much else matters. Yes, I miss my knees and the ability to run, jog and play sports. But I can walk, ride a bike, swim and get around.

My wife, Sandy – who stands beside me, whatever I do. She makes me want to be a better person.

My children – all four turned out fine and chose the correct fork in the road. I am proud of all of them.

My friends – You know who you are. You have no personal stake in my condition, but you are always there.

Our pets – Darla, my daughter’s dog, is more powerful than any therapist, a wonderful listener who agrees with everything I say and meets me at the door with happy kisses. Our cat, Carl, who keeps us laughing with his feline antics.

My experiences – Some extraordinary. Some frightful. They have all given me great empathy, wisdom, and fed my curiosity about life, people, and the world around me. I have climbed the Eiffel Tower in Paris; swam in the Great Barrier Reef of Australia and visited 17 countries around the world. I survived the Vietnam TET offensive in 1968 and returned, unscathed, from that war after four consecutive tours.

My career – It was the best. Hanging up my badge was painful but my experiences in law enforcement were extremely fulfilling.

My home – The American dream. I own it. I cherish it. I maintain it. It is all mine. I can paint it, landscape it, refurnish it. Or just sit in the patio and enjoy it.

My country – We are not perfect, but people around the world still go to great lengths to come here. Some die every day in pursuit of our economic opportunity, religious freedom, and our way of life.

My neighborhood – Gives me the opportunity to continue serving in my retirement. I work with the greatest group of volunteers who give countless hours to make our community just a bit safer.

Nextdoor – What an extraordinary social media platform to unite us all in improving our community!

And so, I am going to remember all the above and learn to cherish the life that I have left. I am going to learn to calm down, slow down, reach out and not sweat the small stuff and things that are beyond my control.

I am going to be forever grateful that my name is not on the Vietnam Wall and that I had the opportunity to enjoy the life that 58,220 men did not. I will never forget that there is always someone who has it much worse than I and, like the homeless man in the KFC parking lot opined, the glass is always half-full.

I want to thank all of you for the part you play in my life. Without you, it would not be the same.


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