Anne Lamott says that the two best prayers she knows are “help me, help me, help me!” and “thank you, thank you, thank you.”
The experience of the Pilgrims reveals that prayers of thanksgiving often grow out of cries for help. Less than 50 of those who sailed from England on the Mayflower in 1620 survived their first winter in the new world. That painful experience made the Pilgrims appreciate the help of Squanto and other Native Americans gave them. That aid in their hour of need, made them deeply grateful in the midst of their loss.
The responses to the question “what are you thankful for” of two Forest Park residents and some of their neighbors in Oak Park and River Forest give added support to the contention that Lamott’s two prayers belong together. Many of their expressions of gratitude this Thanksgiving have grown out of their cries for help.
Forest Park resident Dr. Andre Hines is the CEO of Circle Family Health Care in the Austin Neighborhood.
“When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer a couple of months ago,” she said, “I was not happy with the services she was receiving in another state and the fact that she had no family there with her. She is now living with me in Forest Park and receiving outpatient care at Circle and has in-patient surgery scheduled at Loyola.
“Even in the midst of the challenges of Health Care Reform and our State’s economic situation, I am just tickled pink by the quality of care she has received. For the first time in years her blood sugar in under control and the doctors here discovered that the Cancer diagnosis in the other state was inadequate. I thank God that in Chicago we continuing to have some of the best quality health care systems and great and compassionate health care providers.”
Jill Wagner, another Forest Park resident and the Director of Marketing at the Oak Park Arms, is thankful that what she calls “a network of relationships” has not allowed all of the tragedy and misery in the world to break her spirit. “I have been reading That Used To Be Us,” she explained, “where the authors Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum argue that Americans have fallen behind because they have resigned. I am most grateful that I haven’t resigned. I haven’t gotten ‘used to things.’ I have a little trigger that digs my heels in and doesn’t give up. It is through an unbelievable core of love and support from my husband, children, parents, friends, and community that I am able to be an active participant to building a healthy community to raise my family.”
Jan Pate, the President and CEO of the West Cook YMCA, once had a job as a TV news anchor. “That was the career I trained for,” she recalled, “and I thought it is what I wanted to do forever. It didn’t turn out that way and actually for that I am grateful.”
That loss opened a door for her. “I am thankful to be a part of an organization that has stood the test of time in our community for coming up on 110 years,” she declared. “Every day I have the opportunity to interact with an incredibly diverse group of people who see the Y as a place where community is built, relationships are nurtured, wellbeing is pursued, and friendships are deepened.”
“I love what I do,” she continued, “and I realize not everyone can say that about his or her work. That I can be a small part of the good we do as the way I make my living-by keeping the Y vibrant and thriving for our community-makes me extremely grateful. I never got the same good feeling after a good newscast as I do after a good day at the Y.”
Jessica Mackinnon, the Director of Public Information at Dominican University, tells the story of how her father’s experiences in World War II helped determine the trajectory of the rest of his life which has, in turn, had a profound impact on hers.
Mackinnon said, “At this time of year (Veterans Day) I find myself thinking about my father and how much I appreciate the sacrifices he made so I could have a better life. My father, Richard Mackinnon, was in the Battle of the Bulge at the age of 19-about the same age as my two sons-which really puts his experience into perspective for me. He went overseas with a group of 300 men and came back with 30 and always claimed that he spent the rest of his life honoring those who died by leading as virtuous a life as he could.
“He never talked about the war and I just learned recently that he spent a month in a hospital in France with dysentery and trench foot-a month when he wasn’t able to receive any communication or visits from his parents. With today’s technology, that is hard to imagine. My father was the most honorable person I’ve ever known and I’m thankful for his influence every day–but especially this time of year.”
Hildegarde (Gick) Schmidt, retired Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Dominican University found a reason to be thankful while grieving the loss of her husband. “My mother often told me that she believed memory was one of God’s greatest gifts to us,” she explained. “This year I am especially thankful for the gift of memory. I have memories of the births of our children, childhood memories, memories of my parents, memories from more than 70 years ago and memories of three months ago. My husband of 56 years died two months ago, and now I have only memories.
“His memory had been failing for several years, and that reality helped me understand what an amazing gift it is to be able to remember. Memories sustain me now through the tears, as I remember both the joys and sorrows of our 56 years together. I cannot imagine life without those memories. When I pray at the Thanksgiving table this year, I will thank God for the gift of memory.”
Oak Park Temple Cantor Julie Yugend-Green said that gratitude for her electric blanket reminds her of the call to work for justice. “There is NOTHING,” she said, “as comforting as burrowing into the warmth of a pre-heated bed, when the electric blanket has been turned on around 30 minutes before I go to sleep. Of course I’m aware of the larger issue here – that I’m fortunate enough to have a warm bed on a cold night when so many in our community do not have that luxury; and for that my gratitude is boundless. The warmth provided by my electric blanket is a reminder that I need to take my place in fulfilling the responsibility of the Hebrew phrase, Tikkun Olam – repairing the world.”