On Thanksgiving and giving back

Today is Thanksgiving and I hope it is a lovely one for you, filled with laughter and love as well as something yummy in your tummy. Eat some turkey and pie for me — the reluctant, accidental vegan with so many food allergies I can hardly keep track. But at least I have me some mashed potatoes! And you know what? I’m thankful for that.

Sometimes being grateful for the small things is what helps us get through hard times, as I know many of you face on a daily basis. I get your emails, tweets, Facebook messages, and comments. I bump into readers at the grocery store or even at holiday parties. There are great stories. But there are also stories that seem to have more than their fair share of pain. As someone who has lived through some hard times herself, I know how dark life can get.

My best advice is this: Keep putting one foot in front of the other and you will get there. And in my darkest times I have fallen asleep silently chanting: This too shall pass.

A lot of times when we hear stories of people going through difficult times we hear the phrase, “Everything happens for a reason.” Personally, I think that’s bullshit. My father-in-law did not die of cancer because there was a higher reason to it. I was not molested because there was a “reason.” Sometimes terrible, evil things happen. And when they do, I want to slap the person who says that there is a reason for it. To me, that is like saying that the situation is somehow deserved or destined. Or worse, that whatever higher power you believe in has built this into your life because s/he willed it. Why would I want to believe that God wanted me to be sexually abused? Why would God afflict my loved ones with painful, slow deaths? Bullshit!

What I do believe in is the awesome power of the human spirit. In my darkest days I memorized the poem Invictus, which reads in part, “Under the bludgeonings of chance my head is bloody, but unbowed.” Sometimes we think that these horrors define us. Sometimes we even feel that they might break us. But what I have experienced and what I’ve seen in so many others is quite the opposite.

There is a fire that fuels the human spirit, and with that fire we walk out of the darkness.

This does not mean we do it alone. In fact, I have been blessed many times over with help from people — sometimes even strangers — over the years. I could not have healed from my experiences with abuse if it had not been for compassionate, talented therapists. I could not have survived poverty without help from so many who offered me free dinners, photo-copies of textbooks, and lent me a winter coat for the whole season. There were people who I only found out later who had been strong advocates for me. There were people who, with just one phone call, changed my life for the better. I have not walked through my life with my hand out. But when life has offered me an opportunity, I have tried to never let my pride stop me from taking it. And that has made all the difference, to quote another poet.

And so, for those of us who settle in safe homes today with the warmth and light of good food and good company, I ask just one favor. Even for just a moment, send up a good wish or prayer for those who do not. Better yet, take a moment before the Black Friday frenzy (or perhaps in response to it, judging from the reader’s poll) to make a donation to an organization that works tirelessly (and often thanklessly) toward empowering those who are still struggling in the dark.

This year’s Sin City Siren reader’s pick for is Safe Nest, an organization that has been helping survivors of domestic violence in our community for almost a quarter century. In a town as young as ours, that’s a long time and certainly a lot longer than most local non-profits have been around. Over the years, I have seen how the folks at Safe Nest provide education and awareness about domestic violence as well as safe harbor through their shelter and programs. There will be people at Safe Nest working today, tomorrow, Christmas, and every day of the year. And there will be people in need of Safe Nest today, too. There are women and children at their shelter right now. Some of them have arrived with little more than a garbage bag filled with hastily chosen belongings. You can make a difference for them by making a donation today.

We can all be a light for someone else.

Today I am thankful for so much in my life, including my daughter whose half-birthday is today. I am grateful for the life I have with my husband, my career, and the small luxuries a writer’s life affords. But while I am not rich, I feel rich compared to other times in my life that were filled with desperation, poverty, and yes, sometimes real pain. As I have moved forward in my life, I have always tried to honor the memory of those times with my actions. I try to be the person who advocates for others now, as others once were for me. I try to act in charity to organizations and people, as others once did for me. And when I am repulsed by the largess of Black Friday, I channel that into something positive by giving back to my community. So you’ll find me at the Albertson’s on Tropicana and Jones from 1-5 on Black Friday, taking donations for God’s Groceries, a non-profit that aides those who are hungry and living in poverty. Stop by and say hi, or better yet, make a donation!

And lest you think I could forget just one more reason to be thankful: I am grateful for all of you, dear readers. You give my work purpose and drive me to do something meaningful every day.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Cross-posted from The Sin City Siren.

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