I once worked for a very wealthy couple who owned and operated their own business. They lived in a mansion in one of the nicest parts of town, both drove big luxury cars, and sent their kids to the best schools in the country. And when their kids graduated college, they either gave them jobs in their firm or purchased them their own companies. (Seriously. And that’s outside of graduation gifts!)
At the time I was hired, the contrast with my own life was stark. My husband had just lost his job, we had to sell our home, and worse, had to give our dog away because she was too big for apartment life. My kids had to move into a tiny bedroom together that was barely big enough for one person, much less two growing boys. It’s not an exaggeration to say they hated us both. It was a difficult period for all of us, and I couldn’t help giving in to more than a little envy when I looked at all my employers had. It wasn’t like they hid their wealth, after all. In fact, the level of their material worth was practically thrown in my face daily.
So it was with some shock that I realized, not long after I settled into the job, that these were not happy campers. These people were miserable most of the time, and they didn’t hide that either. From where I sat, just outside the wife’s office at one end of the big, long building, I could hear her conversations with her husband, whose office was at the other end of the building. (Before you think I was eavesdropping, I wasn’t. They often communicated by intercom, and often their conversations would echo down the corridor!) In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for them to conduct heated “discussions” via the intercom. This couple made it no secret that they had embraced unhappiness.
I worked for them for a full year before finding a different job, and despite the difficult and stressful work environment, I’m grateful to them for teaching me one of the greatest lessons of my life: It’s true–money does not buy happiness.
So while I thought about what to write about this week, Thanksgiving week, and about my many blessings, I thought what better topic could there be than to express thanks for those intangibles in life that bring us joy but cannot be purchased, can only be freely given, and freely received.
So here’s my “I’m grateful for” list for Thanksgiving 2011. . .
First, for God, for creating a world of such beauty, and for filling it with sights and sounds and tastes for our pleasure. He gave us food for sustenance, animals for unconditional love, and friends for helping us enjoy the good times and endure the bad.
Second, that I was somehow (through fate maybe?) born in a country that cherishes individual rights and personal freedoms. I can go to my church and worship without fear of persecution. I can travel freely. I can spend my time with whom and how I want. I’m free to pursue my dreams, or not. I’m free to succeed, and I’m free to fail and start over. Now those are blessings.
Third, I’m grateful for those who are reading this blog, and for those whose support and words of encouragement have meant so much to me over the past couple years as I’ve pursued my writing journey.
Lastly (but never least), I’m thankful for my mother. She’s no longer with us, but she taught me and my sister that the greatest, most important “thing” in the world is love. She not only preached those words, but she lived by them every day. So I thank Mom for opening my eyes to the gift of love, in all its forms, and I thank the many who have come into my life and shared their love with me.
Where would I be today without my big sister who’s been watching out for me for so many years? (I’ll reserve the whole throwing-me-off-her-rocking-horse episode for another day. <grin>) Where would I be without my husband who cheers me on and nourishes my dreams and cares for me in so many ways? Or my children who make me so proud, not just for their accomplishments, but for the men they’re growing to be? I’m thankful for my new-found sister whose strength and courage are an inspiration to me. I’m thankful too for my extended family and friends who make me smile just to hear their voices, my “sisters” and “brothers” borne not of the same blood, but through years of shared joys and sorrows.
Both Mom and those former employers taught me that all the “stuff” in the world is meaningless without the love of family and friends, and a heart open to love. So this Thanksgiving, I wish all across the country (and around the world) a safe and joyous day. I wish you freedom to practice your faith and courage to pursue your dreams. I hope that, above all, you too will be rich as I am in the love of family and friends.