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Learning the wisdom of gratitude

One of my favorite hobbies is sleeping in on Saturday mornings, especially during those wee hours before the sun itself decides to rise. This stands diametrically opposed to the often-quoted proverb usually attributed to Benjamin Franklin: “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

I’d rather offer a substitute saying: “Going to bed when sleepy and getting up when not makes a person rested, and that’s worth a lot.” I can think of no greater luxury than spending a few stolen moments in the company of a soft pillow and a warm blanket.

Nevertheless, I know there are many people in our community who don’t have luxuries. They don’t even have basic necessities, like food. For this reason, once a month I set my alarm clock and get up early on a Saturday morning to volunteer at FACES, Farmville Area Community Emergency Services. FACES provides food to area residents who need it. Every week volunteers distribute hundreds of bags of groceries.

With all deference to Mr. Franklin, I must report that the practice of getting up early doesn’t seem to have contributed to my health or my wealth. On the other hand, I must grudgingly concede that I have made one small step in the area of wisdom. It happened this way:

Throughout the course of a usual month, I encounter occasional inconveniences. Something doesn’t go my way. An intention goes wrong. Someone doesn’t respond as I expected. Daily hassles compound, and this leads to grumbling. I can lose my perspective and forget to appreciate blessings.

The practice of getting up early on one Saturday morning a month helps me reset my sense of gratitude. It begins when my alarm clock goes off. At some point as I stumble around in the predawn twilight, I realize I heard my alarm. Instead of complaining, I remind myself to be grateful. Some people can’t hear.

Next, I’m thankful I was able to get up. All my limbs still work. Although I have collected some aches and pains in recent years, and sometimes I don’t bound up the stairs as quickly as I used to, I still get there. For this, I am grateful. The queue at FACES frequently includes folks who must rely on devices such as canes and walkers to help them get around. Some people with more significant mobility challenges rely on the goodness of others to deliver the food to them.

A morning cup of coffee and my breakfast toast remind me to appreciate the benefits of a roof over my head and a fully stocked kitchen. Across our community, many people wake up to empty cupboards, and some wake up in cars or out of doors.

As the days turn colder, I dress in warm layers against the morning chill. Long sleeves, long pants, wool socks. A sweatshirt. A coat. Hat and gloves. I know there will be people coming to receive food who are still wearing summery T-shirts and flip flops. They aren’t immune to the cold; they just don’t have a wardrobe like mine that holds choices for a full range of weather conditions.

In the biblical passage Acts 20:35, the apostle Paul reminded his hearers that Jesus had told them “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Being able to give is a blessing for which I am learning to be grateful. The act of giving requires that someone receive. There may come a time when my life’s circumstances change, and I find myself among those who rely on the kindness and generosity of other givers.

For now, however, I give one Saturday morning a month. It isn’t a lot. Others give much more. And hunger isn’t the only need a variety of givers address. Other agencies and their volunteers tackle health and mental health care issues, housing, joblessness, literacy, education, animal welfare … the list is practically endless.

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, I am grateful for all I have, for my husband, my family, my friends, and my neighbors. But I am also grateful to live in a community where many giving hands join together in service of others.

KAREN BELLENIR has been writing for The Farmville Herald since 2009. Her book, Happy to Be Here: A Transplant Takes Root in Farmville, Virginia features a compilation of her columns. It is available from PierPress.com. You can contact Karen at kbellenir@PierPress.com.