The holiday season is here and most of us are planning and preparing to make our family gatherings a time of joy and celebration. From meals to gift giving, once November 1st arrives, the rush is on and anticipation builds.
For some, it can be a stressful time, for others it is their most favorite time of year. Most years, I find myself feeling a bit of both. When I feel the stress beginning to take hold, I am always brought back to my childhood and the lesson my parents instilled in us about being grateful.
I was raised in Boston when John F. Kennedy was a Senator and became president. Although I was only a child, living in Massachusetts during that era affected my life a great deal. For many people living in Massachusetts, the Kennedys were viewed as our own personal royalty.
I remember one Christmas when I was fairly young my parents explained that we were going to follow the Kennedy's lead and begin a new tradition for Christmas! Wow! I thought this is going to be the best Christmas ever. I was close in age to Caroline and John Jr. and would see them on the evening news riding their ponies and playing at the beach and thought they were the luckiest children on earth. We had been by the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port on Cape Cod many times and seen first hand the palatial home they lived in.
So when my parents said we were going to do something like the Kennedys...well, I thought the sky is the limit! Horses, boats, toys galore...! And then my father began to explain that although the Kennedys were very wealthy, they believed that because of their many blessings, they were required to give much to others. My father explained the many good deeds the Kennedys did for people all over the world.
I remember feeling confused. I wasn't hearing much about when I was going to pick out my very own horse...nothing said so far related to us getting a boat...my father hadn't even uttered the word "toys". And then my father explained that although we were not wealthy like the Kennedys, we should be very grateful for what we were blessed with. He went on to share that no matter how many people you can look at who have more than you, you can also look in the other direction and see how many have less than you.
My mother told us that to help us understand how fortunate we were she had made arrangements for us to go into the city and visit a place where children without families lived. She told us about a "home" called "Home for Little Wanderers". It was an orphanage.
I couldn't really understand how that could be...how could there be children without a family? If they didn't have a mom, who cooked their dinner and made them lunch? If they didn't have a dad, who tucked them in at night? My parents explained the many different possible reasons children may not have parents to take care of them. I remember crying when my father said that because they didn't have parents the children in the orphanage would receive very little for Christmas.
He suggested we go to our rooms and find at least two toys each that were in very good shape that we would like to wrap and bring to the children in the orphanage for Christmas. We all raced to our rooms to pick out just the right toys to give away. I recall while I was in my room searching, thinking that no matter how great the presents we found to give the children would be, they still wouldn't have a mom or dad.
The next weekend we traveled into the city to the orphanage.
It wasn't a home. It looked like the big brick factory buildings you would see along the way into town. There wasn't a yard to play in that I could see. The huge front door was right off the sidewalk, like the doors into stores or office buildings.
We went to the door with bags and bags of beautifully wrapped presents, all with handmade cards attached that my sister and I had painstakingly crafted. An older lady answered the door and led us into a large room with only a few sofas and chairs. I was right; it didn't feel like a home either. She was very nice and offered us all hot chocolate. She told us how grateful she was to us and people like us who would take the time to remember those "less fortunate." She took the gifts we brought and put them with the other donated gifts to be handed out on Christmas morning.
We got to meet some of the children and play for awhile. We played a board game and one of the older children read us a Christmas story. They seemed normal to me. You couldn't tell by looking at them that they didn't have any parents.
We stayed for several hours and then headed home.
The ride home was quiet, which was unusual for my family. My sister finally broke the silence and said "They didn't look like they didn't have parents." I added, "They didn't look any different than we do!"
And that's when I got the lesson that has stayed with me throughout my life...
My father said, "Exactly! …and they're NOT any different than you are...except you have been blessed with parents and a real home." He went on to say, "No matter how much you think you don't have compared to some, you will always have a great deal more than others. Be grateful for what you do have."
The ride became quiet again.
The impact of that experience taught us not to compare what we had to what others had and be envious, rather to place our thoughts on the fact that we were blessed with a great deal more than many.
We learned that you didn't need to be wealthy to be able to help other people and that everyone can find something they can do to help someone else. My father shared his belief that everyone should look at their lives as a blessing and share what they do have however they can.
He said that being grateful was more than saying "thank you". He said it was something that happens in your heart when you learn what is truly valuable in life and added, "When you are grateful from your heart for what you already have, your life will become better and better."
We continued our annual visits to the orphanage for many years until we moved away.
I think of the life changing lesson my sisters and I learned through that experience. I am grateful for the wisdom and insight of my parents to teach us the principles of the law of attraction long before they had a label and were a household term.
When my thoughts revisit the trips to the orphanage, my heart is refueled with a feeling of gratitude for all I have been blessed with. It was a lesson in gratitude...a lesson that taught us to not just "be" grateful in our minds but how to "feel" grateful in our hearts.