Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Letter From the President

What are you grateful for?  This is the question at this time of year.  I was thinking about this as I was pushing my way through the grocery store trying to shop for Thanksgiving dinner.  The buzz in the air was tense, if not downright hostile around the meat counter, where I picked up a tag that was 18 numbers away from being called.  I looked around at the people surrounding me and noticed my body was showing physical signs of panic: shallow breathing, fluttery heartbeat, stomach tightening, my face pulling into a tight ball of frustration.  I thought, "Why don't these people go home so I can shop in peace?"  I know people were looking at me and thinking the exact same thing.

Melting down in the grocery store while trying to pick up a turkey suddenly seemed like the worst kind of holiday cliche: Woman Having Holiday Nervous Breakdown in Public.  Why, exactly, did I need to shop in peace? I live in Oakland.  Shopping in peace is for people who live somewhere else. Why was it a big deal to wait 10 minutes for one of the harried meat counter people finally get to my number?  What is the point of getting all upset because I can't have what I think I want-- a world emptied of people getting in the way--  which is impossible to have anyway?

These thoughts, which I pondered while waiting my turn at the turkey counter, led me to this: It's not all about gratitude.  I have a lot to be grateful for, but that doesn't help me in moments like this.  It's also about being of service to other people.  Helping others is something the has some action to it, movement, and focus.  Giving people your time and attention is the most valuable thing all of us have to give.  Whether that's volunteering your time at a non-profit or showing more patience and kindness to annoying people getting in the way in the grocery store, taking the time to help other people get through life is a contribution almost all of us can make, every day, in every interaction we have.  I'm working on it.

I hope everybody had a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with edible food, annoying people we could practice being patient with, and also, people we love and care about.