Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Gratitude for What We Have Is Foundational to Holidays

By Christopher Fay

As we approach the holiday of Thanksgiving, I like to reflect on the power of gratitude. There is an old saying that “gratitude turns what we have into enough.” Gratitude is more than a feeling; it is a spiritual discipline to be practiced on a daily basis. Gratitude is a garment we put on when we feel down, an elixir we imbibe when we are fatigued. Gratitude revives us, by reminding us of all we have been given.

At Homestretch, we welcome homeless parents and children into our care, who are escaping domestic violence, human trafficking, chronic poverty and war. These parents often come to us with little hope, feeling lost and scared. Their problems can feel overwhelming.For these families, with nowhere to lay their heads, mired in debt, without jobs, their savings depleted, often with chronic health conditions, suffering from anxiety and depression, and with dependent young children, it can feel as if they have drained their last vestiges of faith and hope.

We place these families in homes and then surround them with services designed to address all of their needs and aspirations. Step by step, increment by increment, we reignite their hope by equipping them with education and job skills, repairing credit and building savings, restoring health, and helping them to enter career paths.

We help with childcare and transportation and scholarships to school. We ensure that their children are healthy, happy and able to excel in school. Families who once thought they had no real future now find doors opening to promising new opportunities. Over three decades, homeless parents in Homestretch have become nurses, accountants, teachers, pharmacy techs, dental assistants, social workers, master plumbers, business analysts, cosmetologists, realtors and pastors. Best of all, outcome studies by local universities prove that 90 percent of these families never return to homelessness, a success rate unparalleled nationwide.

One thing our most successful graduates have in common, and what successful people worldwide share, is an ability to recognize how blessed they are, and a willingness to express their thanks to others who helped them. They share a recognition that we never achieve anything important alone; any success we achieve is built on the foundations that others have laid before us.

Our graduates often say, “You all believed in me more than I believed in myself.” Once their hope is reignited, anything is possible. When children observe their parents overcoming adversity with grit and determination, they learn to do the same. These parents, once mired in loss and despair, see themselves become heroes in the eyes of their children for how they face and surmount life’s obstacles. Given so much, they seek to carry that love forward.

We must carry that love forward. We are living in a very turbulent time, with 12 million people losing their benefits the day after Christmas, a third of all renters behind in their rent, and millions of families facing homelessness once the moratoriums on eviction are lifted.

A quarter of a million people have already died in the pandemic, and the numbers of infected are increasing every day. It may seem odd to appeal to gratitude in such a time as this, with so many people suffering and things appearing so bleak. I would argue that yes, it is precisely at times like these that we should focus on expressing gratitude.

The first official Thanksgiving holiday came about in an even greater time of upheaval, in the midst of America’s own bloodiest period, our Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln thought it prudent for the public to set time aside to give thanks for all the blessings they did enjoy in life.

Lincoln said in his 1863 proclamation, “with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, (let us) commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers” and “fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.” Lincoln recognized that gratitude was a critical discipline necessary to survive the calamity of the times. Lincoln was right.

Let us remember, whatever good we have in life, is because others have laid the path for us to walk.

This week let’s bless others, as we have been blessed, and pray for healing of our great nation.

Christopher Fay is the Executive Director for Falls Church nonprofit, Homestretch