Thursday, November 25, 2010

My Gratitude List

It's time to be honest with you again, dear it is often difficult for me to resist the impulse to bare my soul when I'm faced with a blank computer screen!  I was sitting here thinking about Thanksgiving, reminiscing about the past, realizing where I am in life and what I have to be grateful for.  I have to admit...Thanksgiving is not really one of my favorite holidays.  It seems too often that it becomes the excuse to eat WAY too much in a short amount of time, loosen your belt and belch until you fall asleep.  Plus, unlike Christmas (my FAVORITE holiday,) you don't get to give and receive gifts!  I mean, where's the fun in that??  Though Thanksgiving can also be a time when we truly give thanks for the people in our lives and the things we have, and hopefully it is also a time when we look beyond ourselves and 'pay it forward' by helping others.  And this is what I choose to talk about today.

Paying it forward shouldn't just be a once a year should extend throughout the year, and come as naturally to us as breathing.  I know this isn't the case.  We tend to get so wrapped up in our own lives, our own stresses, even our own joys.  I'm guilty of this's human, to get caught up in things, and takes some effort to extend help and thought to others.  I started thinking about a time I was lucky enough to witness a purely selfless let me share this little story with you.  I mentioned in past postings that I used to teach Special Education.  A very rewarding job, though it can also be very tiring.  Often the obstacles faced by your students seem so large, and are difficult for them to reach and overcome.  Sometimes progress comes a little at a time.  It can be upsetting and frustrating to watch them struggle with things, but you keep going...if for no other reason, because of the knowledge that they will make progress if given the chance.

The last school I worked in was in the Catskills, in a very small community.  I had a diverse group of students, ranging from grades K-2nd...with a mix of physical, emotional and cognitive disabilities.  Many dealt with multiple issues.  On top of that, most of my class came from poor families, giving them even more obstacles and challenges to face.  As a group we shared many similarities, because we had all faced discrimination of some sort...even the youngest students in my class.  We often focused group projects on facing these extra challenges as we went out into the world, and learned to accept each other for our strengths and our weaknesses.  Because of this, we became more than a classroom; we became a family.  I got a taste of just how much like a family we had become, and it's a memory I will always cherish. 

Our school had a school store from which children could buy school supplies, little books and toys, and was open during lunch and recess hours.  It was during one of my down times of the day, when my 2nd graders were at lunch, and Kindergarten/1st grade students were at different special classes such as music and gym.  I was preparing the classroom for the afternoon, setting up different stations for each grade to work at when everyone returned.

All of a sudden I looked up, and there stood one of my second graders.  For the purposes of story telling I'll call him Matthew (which of course is not his real name.)  Matthew was a very quiet, shy boy who dealt with learning difficulties across the curriculum, and spent much of his day in my classroom.  For two hours each day he would join his 2nd grade class, and his Regular Education teacher and I collaborated on adjusting the curriculum to meet Matthew's needs.  I was surprised to see him standing in front of me, as normally the students who came back to my classroom during lunch/recess did so because of social and behavioral issues.  Despite being so shy, Matthew got along with most of the other students in his grade and was very friendly toward others.  He didn't seem to be upset in any way, and just stood there looking at me, holding something hidden in his hands.  "Matthew...what are you doing here?  Shouldn't you be at lunch?"

" mom gave me 35 cents to buy myself a toy, Ms. Hook.  So I went to the store to get one...but I saw this little story about bears.  I thought Carrie would like I got it for her instead.  Could I put it in her chair so it'll be a surprise?"  Carrie (also a fictitious name,) was one of my Kindergartners, who had Cerebral Palsy, and sat in a special adapted chair when working at the table.  Although Matthew and Carrie knew each other and worked together sometimes in large group activities,  they were in different grades...and mostly worked separately in classroom centers according to their different curricula.  Matthew was also from a very poor family.  He was not a child who bought toys and other things from the school store often, and 35 cents (though it may seem small,) could not be spent frivolously.  It was a special treat that his mom had given him, yet instead of taking it for himself, Matthew chose to spend his money on someone else...just to make her smile.

As I sit here reminiscing about that moment, I begin to really think about who and what I am grateful for.  My family is at the top of my loving parents who make me laugh, offer help when I need it and stand back when I don't (well, okay...maybe not ALL the time, but for the most part!)  My sister and brother who helped their youngest sister grow up by showing her how to do things, protected her when she needed it and teased her relentlessly (I maybe could have done with a little LESS of that, but like all of us who are the youngest in our families, I survived!)  And my brother's family...his wife, who makes me laugh and whose own laugh is contagious, and their two beautiful, smart daughters who make me very proud to be an aunt!  My friends rank very high on my gratitude list as well...I have just a few close friends but they are all so special to me and will always remain that way!  I'm of course thankful for my health, for I am basically healthy (despite the physical issues I deal with,) and I am grateful to have a safe, warm place to live and food in my fridge to eat.

These people and things are at the top of my list.  Though beyond the main list of things I am grateful for, are those tiny, little memories that will pop into my head when I least expect it...and I realize how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to see what true selflessness is.  So I will tuck this little memory away as I put on my stretchy pants and enjoy today's Thanksgiving with my family, and know that there are people like Matthew out there in the world, who are paying it forward and thinking of others.  And for this, I am truly grateful!           

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