A Thanksgiving Reflection
A recent morning at breakfast, in the quiet of the dawning light and in the solitude of the candle lit at my table, I penned words of gratitude in my journal, giving thanks for the good night’s sleep, the luxury of my bed, and the comfort of my warm home.
Such things are in stark contrast to those that feel the hunger, cold, and poor sleep of no place to call home. The mind does not have far to reach for scenes provided by the media—those in tents at refugee camps, those in crowded cells at detention centers, those sleeping on benches and under bridges, those rendered homeless by the ravages of fires and floods. The list goes on.
One does not have to reach far even without the media. Penning these morning words took me to thoughts of a former student. A couple of years ago when a local college had the sudden need for an adjunct professor to teach Art Appreciation, I stepped in. The students were already five weeks into the semester and not much had been covered. The mood was full of skepticism.
I did not take the traditional approach of showing slide after slide of art from centuries or even decades gone by. To some degree, yes. We covered the basics. And I brought in actual art pieces to learn style, texture, and composition. Yet I largely tapped into the currency of the students’ contemporary and personal interests, reaching into their immediate surroundings, as well as around the world.
I shared clips of an artist from Nigeria who discovered his art from trauma, an artist from Scotland that makes art within nature, environmental artists creating homes out of recycled plastic bottles, artists of social justice, and city murals. Sharing the story of a designer that made a dress with over 1,500 Netflix envelopes peaked the interest of a student that had a love for fashion. These real and relatable experiences sparked curiosity and helped students to connect with their own interests and presence in the world, as well as their appreciation for art.
Underneath it all, what I encouraged from day one, was for students to appreciate the art of their own lives—and essentially the beauty of who they are. This is not an easy assignment for most of us on any given day. Giving thanks is much about the art of appreciation. Valuing who we are, not only empowers the essence of our own lives, but opens us up to life around us, cultivating curiosity and connection with the world at large.
Throughout the remaining weeks of the course, amidst the necessary tests and writing assignments, the greatest jewels came out of the impromptu assignments that I gave students during class. The immediacy of this tapped more readily into their true thoughts and feelings.
One of my impromptu assignments was for students to write about something in their own lives that they greatly appreciated. Topics included a beloved grandmother, a favorite sport, music, and a piece of jewelry handed down from a deceased father.
There was one student’s writing that intrigued me with its first sentence. “The thing I appreciate most in my life is my bed,” he wrote. He continued to share the story of how he grew up essentially homeless, continually shifting to different locations, always sharing a bed or a floor with a number of siblings and cousins.
Eventually, when he was in high school, an uncle invited him into his home. At 16, for the first time, he had his very own bed and very own room. Several years later, in his dorm room, he continued the appreciation for his bed. He was one of my most attentive and gracious students, embracing the topics at hand, curious to know more, and ready to share his own reflections.
Like most folks, for me, giving thanks is a year-round practice. We never need to look far to be reminded of our gifts—whether it’s a warm home, our health, or loved ones. Yet ultimately, by appreciating the art of our own lives, we are able to more fully offer the gifts of who we are to the world.