by Barbara Pierce and Gary Wunder
In the United States Thanksgiving is traditionally the season for taking stock and being thankful. Regardless of political persuasion or religious inclination, this is a time for looking about us and counting our blessings for what is best in our lives. These days it is easy to find plenty of bad news and rotten luck: homes or jobs lost, health or relationships compromised, even violence and personal danger for ourselves or those we love. Notwithstanding such problems, Thanksgiving is the time when we concentrate on the good, the healthy, and the generous in ourselves and in those around us.
In the past few days the two of us have been thinking and talking about the special blessings that accrue to those in the Federation who have learned to give spontaneously and to give back to others. Leaders at every level have experienced the gratification and even joy of extending help to someone who accepts it and then turns around to ask what he or she can do to help the organization or someone else in need. We rejoice because the NFB has just become a little stronger and more effective and because we have found a new friend and colleague. That is always something for which to give thanks.
In such situations we count ourselves lucky and blessed, but have you ever stopped to consider that such people are also among the very luckiest in our society? Sometimes, for the first time in their lives, they know the joy of giving, the feeling of self-worth when they are needed, and the cleansing of spirit which comes when they begin to believe they are repaying a debt. That debt is never totaled, never demanded, but always present in the conscience of those who are willing to admit to ourselves and others just how much we have been given to get where we are today. Sometimes it is the good will of others expressed through a kind word, the name of a passing bus, or the name on the next street sign. Sometimes it is the lunch we were bought when we came to convention on a hope and a prayer and with just enough money to get home. Sometimes it is money set aside by our fellow citizens for our vocational rehabilitation. At last we have hope that we can assume our places in the world as givers--grateful for what has been given or loaned, but equally grateful for the chance to pay it back. This is the one time in life when we're willing to pay interest because that interest means we are not only giving back what was loaned but adding to the treasure available for helping our fellow human travelers.
Consider for a moment those folks whom we reach out to help but who, after receiving the assistance, subside back into apathy or actively withdraw. Their actions are often cloaked in self-justification: I can't get to meetings; I don't have the skills to help others; I am too old to take an active part in things; my family wouldn't like for me to go out on my own; I did my part when I could see; I'm just not a joiner; I'm not a causist like you people. Then there are those who benefit in a substantial way from our help and with sincere-sounding words that make your heart want to burst, proclaim their allegiance to giving back to the people and the organization that has done so much to help them. It hurts when, after these promises, their names appear in a presidential report at a state or national convention, and you go to congratulate them on their victory, only to realize they have disappeared. The excuses vary, but the motivations are pretty obvious and depressing: insecurity, laziness, self-absorption, and passivity; the world has dealt me such a dirty hand that I just can't find it within myself to raise a finger in the service of others.
Blind people find it temptingly easy to fall into such habits of mind. The people around us usually don't believe that we can do the things they do, so their instinct is to protect us from failure by discouraging us from trying. If one's impulses to try new things are stifled long enough, it is no wonder that one eventually begins to believe that holding up one's end, returning favors, even talking about the interests of another person are social rules that do not apply. Down this road live the blind people who assume that they deserve free services, a place at the front of the line, and representation by the NFB when they are denied what they want or think they deserve.
Such shriveled souls are exasperating and frustrating, but mostly they are to be pitied. One of the most vivid pictures of such folks is the statement making the rounds that they play the game of life wearing catcher's mitts on both hands—always ready to receive but unable to throw the ball back. These are truly blighted souls, and we should pity them, for they have deprived themselves of a joyous feeling words can't begin to convey. They have missed one of the most fundamental components of the contented life—giving. Whether it is enabling a blind child to get the Braille instruction she needs or offering a stranger a listening ear, giving blesses both the recipient and the giver. It may be more blessed to give than to receive, but it is also much more fun and more rewarding.We who are members of the National Federation of the Blind can count among our blessings this Thanksgiving that we have the opportunity to give to each other and to our communities. We know the satisfaction of helping others and improving the world. By the grace of God our capacity to commit to others and to reach out with understanding has not been smothered by society's conviction that we have nothing to give. For this and for very much more, this Thanksgiving we are thankful.