I’ve known Joan Roeschke a very long time. She has a stunning soprano voice, a wicked sense of humor, a brilliant mind and a generous soul. She is an educator, musician and administrator. She is also a minister who was recently asked to present the invocation at the Women’s Auxiliary of the Church of Scientology Annual Auction.
As her gentle words wafted over the silent and respectful room of parishioners, volunteers and guests from charitable organizations, Joan reflected my private thoughts and no doubt the thoughts of everyone in the room.
Images of California’s recent devastating fires were on all of our minds. It was hard not to think about the massive destruction, loss of property, and the horrific number of people and animals that perished.
But there was one common theme in all of the news interviews with those who were now homeless and living in tent cities facing very uncertain futures. Even the wealthy residents from Malibu, while perhaps more affluent, were not immune to the gravity of the situation. They all voiced the same message: Everyone said they were grateful to be alive and were praying for those still looking for their loved ones. No one complained about the loss of their possessions. Not one!
The unity of this message really struck me. Whether they were young or old, urban or rural dwellers, rich or poor, famous or not-so-famous, not one bemoaned their situation. They were thankful to be alive. They praised their police and fire departments and the neighbors who had knocked on their doors urging them to evacuate. Their eyes welled up with tears when speaking about the generosity of strangers who provided them with food and shelter. And to a man, woman and child, they immediately spoke of their hope for the wellbeing of others who were likewise suffering loss.
When we care for and nurture others, when we know that life is about what we DO not what we own, and when we can care more about others than about ourselves, only then are we truly happy, and truly thankful.
Joan’s prayer struck a real chord with me. At that exact moment, I knew that there were thousands of newly homeless people sitting in shelters or homes of friends, relatives or even strangers, not in a state of panic or hate, but in a true state of thankfulness and gratitude.
And Joan continued with her prayer:
This is a festive occasion, and in our festivity let us remember those who have no festivity, those who cannot share in this plenty, and those whose lives are more affected than our own by the challenges of fire, of poverty, of hunger, and of want.
Let us be a source of Hope for those in need.
And let us give gratitude for our opportunity to serve our fellows.
“Let us give gratitude for our opportunity to serve our fellows.” How true it is that that opportunity is something to be grateful for. It is in the moments when we help our fellow man that we glow.
I know that in disasters and crises, people have reached their hands out to others, many times risking physical harm and even death to help a total stranger. They act out of love, pure and simple. They don’t ask about their political views, race, heritage, religion, or culture. They act out of a truth that we all know deep inside our hearts: We are humanity. We are a group. We only flourish if others survive well too.
That’s why I do volunteer work. That’s why the Women’s Auxiliary of the Church of Scientology hosts an annual fundraiser to donate to children in foster care, to shelters, to the homeless, to the underprivileged, and to servicemen and women.
And while Thanksgiving is about giving thanks, it’s also about how the act of gratitude makes us who we are. When we care for and nurture others, when we know that life is about what we DO not what we own, and when we can care more about others than about ourselves, only then are we truly happy, and truly thankful. And that act of gratitude makes us greater than we were.
In the words of L. Ron Hubbard: “Happiness and strength endure only in the absence of hate. To hate alone is the road to disaster. To love is the road to strength. To love in spite of all is the secret of greatness. And may very well be the greatest secret in the universe.”