I am writing an article that will be distributed in time for Thanksgiving. As I write this article, Yom Kippur is approaching. Reports of the devastating storms hitting Haiti, the Bahamas, Florida and the coast line are bombarding the news. I think of all the people who are facing the loss of their homes. So many individuals lost their lives. I was going to write about gratitude for Thanksgiving, but when terrible acts of nature happen, it’s sometimes hard to think about this concept. The timing of this storm during the days of awe and before Yom Kippur gives me pause. And what does this all have to do with JFS?
Most of us are victims of a storm at least once in our lives. This storm may be weather related, but often the storm is losing something of value. Life is never the same after “the storm.” Some of us will heal more quickly than others and some of us may live the rest of our lives in “the storm.” At JFS, we work with people before, during and after the storm.
How you recover from the storm is frequently based on your coping skills and your resilience. Resilience is the ability to adapt to a situation and take out the positives. There is more evidence that resilience may be an inherited trait, but resilience can also be acquired through various approaches to therapy. Mindfulness helps the individual focus on the present rather than thinking about all the overwhelming details that can be consuming. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps the individual identify distorted thoughts that are not useful.
There are the unthinkable storms - the Holocaust, genocide in Darfur, those who are wandering to find a home. How people survive these storms seems rather miraculous. The loss of a child is a storm that never goes away, but somehow survivors of these tragedies find a way to go on, not always because they want to but because they have to. I am always amazed by the human spirit and the power of a community to help those in need. While there are reports from the hurricanes of price gauging among some of the merchants, there are also the stories of sharing and caring. Total strangers offer their homes to storm victims in need of respite. In the worst situations, the human spirit frequently prevails and hope emerges.
It is these acts of loving kindness that remind us to be thankful for what we have. Like resilience, I often wonder if gratitude is an inherited trait or a quality that someone can acquire through their experience. Looking for gratitude is a fruitless pursuit because the act of kindness should be gratifying in itself. When people enter helping professions to give back, they become disappointed when they may not receive the positive feedback they had hoped for in the noble profession of their choosing. In fact, relationships seem to suffer when a person’s expectations about gratitude are not fulfilled.
If one is resilient enough to survive and feel a sense of gratitude, life can be more fulfilling. I always remember the saying, “It’s about wanting what you have, not having what you want.”
The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving. ~H.U. Westermayer