Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cultivating Seeds of Gratitude in the Garden of Social Justice Work

When I was in graduate school, I had some trouble revising my thesis, and I started to spiral into despair. A wise inner voice told me to get to the local food bank to volunteer some hours and to get my head out of my solipsistic focus.

I've always relied on social justice work to restore my perspective. Social justice work reminds me of the puniness of my individual problems. Social justice work reminds me of the work that's truly important.

I had a similar experience yesterday. After a week of creating accreditation reports, which led me to despair at the ways my writing talents are being used these days, and dealing with student issues and scheduling issues and trying to salve the feelings of various people, I was ready for a change of pace. After a wearying discussion of personnel issues, I beat a hasty retreat to First Lutheran church in downtown Ft. Lauderdale.

I brought in the vegetarian lasagna and got to work. I cut the various desserts and put them on small plates. I helped strategize about what to do with donated baby carrots (cook them into mushiness--many of our dinner guests have dental problems). Once everyone arrived, I spent some time racing around: bringing fresh pans of food to the serving table, passing out dessert, giving people foil and plastic bags so they could take some food with them.

For a brief period of time, I was able to forget about the endless work discussions that we have about changing the culture of our school. I was working on changing the even larger culture, the one that treats a chunk of our population as disposable.

After the worship service, I got in my older model car and drove through the dark, downtown streets. I saw some people on the sidewalk who dragged their possessions with them through the night; the lucky ones had shopping carts. I thought about my own car and how lucky I am to have one. I thought about my house, into which we've been pouring money (new AC, new roof), and instead of feeling weary, I felt lucky.

I'm hoping that my spirit of gratitude stays with me through this day at work, a long day of meetings and telephone conferences, of graduations and retirement parties.

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