Last night I headed down to the Drop-In to help serve Thanksgiving dinner. I was a bit concerned about how dinner would progress. We were anticipating about 1,200 people for dinner, and on Friday, there hadn't been enough volunteers signed up to help out. I needn't have worried.
Over the past few days both radio and TV have promoted our Thanksgiving dinner. By the time 6pm rolled around, over 30 volunteers had turned up to help out and lend a hand serving the meal. Normally, we do not allow young children into the shelter to volunteer. But, a couple of families turned up with their younger children and Cindy, the chef on duty, in the midst of organizing mashed potatoes and gravy, slicing turkey and heating up veggies, found jobs for each of them.
What a gift the children were to staff and clients. They added a 'lightness of being' to the evening. One client commented as I walked passed, "This is great. Everyone's watching their language!" And it was true. Where normally some clients don't think much about the words they use, the room became filled with courteous discourse as everyone made an effort to be on their best behaviour for the sake of the children. Clients quit bickering amongst themselves and staff stretched themselves to encompass our youthful guests at a mealtime that is often fraught with stress as they juggle keeping an eye out for trouble makers and ensuring everyone gets fed. It was a beautiful meal.
As the children worked with their parents to carry each plate filled with turkey and all the fixings to our guests, they concentrated on not spilling a drop. When they reached an individual, they each looked up, gave a shy smile and said, "Happy Thanksgiving". As each guest received the meal held out in a child's hands, they stopped, smiled back and said, "Thank you." Some whispered a gentle, "God Bless," others, simply nodded their heads in gratitude, their emotions too strong to give voice to. But, in their exchange, recognition of the human spirit that connects us all was lit and hope awoke in everyone's heart.
Last night serving dinner, I watched faces transform, hearts break open and minds open up to possibility. Those shy smiles plucked heartstrings. For some, they set off memories of Thanksgiving dinners past, for others they opened up the possibility of dinners to come, hopefully in better times, better places.
A smile is such a simple thing, and yet, such a precious gift. The smiles from those young children will live on in the hearts of everyone at the shelter last night. Dinners will come and go, but those smiles will continue to ignite spirits to the possibility of change. Those shy smiles will continue to keep hope alive.
I left the Drop-In last night filled with gratitude. For the families who came out to help. For the staff who do such an amazing job day in, day out. And, for the clients for whom a child's smile carried such a blessing. Their lives are not easy, but, they keep getting up in the morning and starting over again. Some will be there for awhile. Others will move on quickly. No matter how long their stay, their hope that one day life will be different gives me hope too. I can't change their lives, but as those children reminded me last night, I can share my smile, willingly, freely. Sometimes, it's all I can do. Sometimes, it's all I need to do to acknowledge their presence on my journey as we touch eachother's hearts with gratitude.
As the volunteers left, they walked down the aisle between the tables where satisfied diners sat back, their bellies full, their lives perhaps a little less bleak. As the volunteers passed through, the clients clapped in gratitude. The volunteers were a bit taken aback, embarrassed, except one young boy and his brother. They raced along, chasing each other down the aisle. To them, this was just another part of life they'd never experienced before.
Cindy, the frenzy of getting dinner ready finally over, stood at the bottom of the stairs to thank each volunteer for their contribution. One little girl, her kitchen-helper hair net still in place covering her blond hair, stopped in front of Cindy, put her arms up and gave her a hug. "Thank you for letting me help serve dinner," she said.
It doesn't matter what side of the street you're on, gratitude is a force that can change lives. I am so very grateful for my blessings, for my family and friends, the joy in my life today, for my freedom, for a job I love and for people I admire with whom I work.
May your life be a plentiful banquet of good friends, bountiful food, love and laughter. May gratitude fill your heart and open up the limitless possibilities of your life today as you give thanks for all that you have and all that you can be when you live fearlessly and passionately. May you smile throughout your day.