Thanksgiving 2016

It would be easy for me to write a Thanksgiving blog that was a list of the privileges I enjoy. I am well aware that many of the things that inspire gratitude in me have come to me not because of my own earning, but rather because of my race and gender and cultural identity. Today seems like the wrong day for a public display of wealth and position though privately I do offer my thanks for the many blessings I have received. And blessings, like grace, come to me unearned. They are not the result of my works in this life, but rather the graciousness of God.

Today, however, I would like to offer my thanks for some of the friendships I have been granted that help to give perspective to my celebration.

I am grateful for my friends who live with cognitive disabilities. I am thinking specifically of two different friends who live in residences administered by Black Hills Works. They struggle to survive on very small disability payments and occasional support from extended family members. Challenges in their lives include roommates whose disabilities require restrictions on the freedoms of all who live in their home, dependence upon public transportation in a town that has limited resources, jobs that pay the lowest wages in our community, and loneliness that has its roots in the judgmental attitudes and rejection by some of their peers. My friends never go to go to prom, never were considered for college scholarships, and will never receive promotions to the corner office. They are not, however, defined by their disabilities. They bring brightness and joy to all who take the time to get to know them. They add to the quality of life in our community through their art. They add their enthusiasm to sports events and other public gatherings. They give generously of their love and time through volunteering and through their attention to the details of special days such as birthdays and anniversaries. Their thanksgiving greetings to me were heartfelt and deeply appreciated.

I am grateful for a friend that I visited last night who is being held in a detention facility until his trial. He does not have the money to pay his bail and, frankly, is relieved to be detained because it has helped him become sober and lessened, if only temporarily, the chains of addiction on his life. Still he longs to be with his family, who are struggling to survive with very little support. He wonders how the electricity bill will be paid and so the power will remain on. He wonders how much serious trouble his son will find without proper supervision. He wonders about food and clothing for his grandchildren. He knows the stigma of society and the ways others look at him. He bears the pain of rejection of those who said they were his friends but who have abandoned him since his arrest. He did not turn to me for financial support or legal advice, but rather as a friend to visit him in the midst of the loneliness and boredom of incarceration.

I am grateful for my connections with a couple who live not far from me and are of a similar age and who are recent survivors of suicide. After years and years of struggling with mental illness that seemed to defy effective treatment. After countless trips to hospitals and clinics and appointments and rehabilitation and alternative living facilities. After investing a huge number of dollars and time and effort and energy in a daughter who has been legal adult nearly three times as long as she was a minor in their care, their table will be painfully empty this year. They are only beginning to be honest with the sense of relief that has come with the end of the struggle and they are hopeful for the peace to which their daughter has come. Still there is an emptiness and a longing for what might have been. There is a fear of the stigma of mental illness that has hung around their family for decades. They can’t figure out how to interpret the silence of their friends. They still cry more than they think is normal and are so glad for those who really listen.

I am grateful for water protectors who are living in the camp at Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Their commitment to peace and prayer is truly inspiring. They do not know why their presence has inspired so much fear in the governor and other officials of North Dakota that they have to endure the constant noise of a circling helicopter and see the constant presence of heavily armed military vehicles at the edge of their camp. They are dismayed that unarmed people have been attacked with dogs, sprayed with pepper spray and tear gas, beaten with batons, blasted with sound cannons and sprayed with water in sub-freezing temperatures. They don’t know why the Governor has insisted that a public highway and essential corridor for transport of food and access to hospital remain blockaded with armed guards. They believe that their actions and their encampment is for the protection of water for all people, not just those who are of their heritage or political belief. They are trying to be reasonable as their case is pursued in court, and don’t understand why the opposition will not wait for the judgment of the court.

I am grateful for friends who are struggling to raise two African-American sons in a urban area in another state. While they are justifiably proud of their sons and the accomplishments they have achieved in school and sports, they are fearful for them as young drivers. They have seen too many “routine” traffic stops turn into violent death. The videos of young black men dying in confrontations with police are too prevalent. The stories are too frequent. They know how quickly the simple act of wearing a hoodie on a dark street or becoming defiant with a police officer can become dangerous. They don’t like having to warn their sons of the dangers of injustice, but they know the realities of their city.

This thanksgiving, I am grateful for all of the people in my life whose lives are very different from my own. I am grateful that they pray to the same God as I. I am grateful that God hears every prayer.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!