Sunday, November 24, 2013

Gratitude is the Attitude - and consider RTO for Holiday giving

I just read a great article in the December issue of Good Housekeeping (women's magazines are a favorite holiday-time indulgence - I can't get enough of those photo essays of perfect food!) about  how helping others can promote optimism which in turn has enormous health benefits.

I've known this at the bone-deep level for a while. One of the biggest challenges of my Terrible Year (as I've come to view the year of my divorce) was maintaining an attitude of compassion and good will, while remembering all the blessings I still had, and the new ones that were sure to come. I was struggling to stay on the Medium Road some days - never mind the High Road - but somehow I intuited that helping someone else might be the best way out of that funk.

I've talked before about how much I enjoy my literacy work in the Oakland public schools, but this year I added a second, very different job: I work on the Tuesday crew to make small home improvements for impoverished elderly here in Oakland.

I had no idea what to expect, and I felt seriously unqualified the first time I showed up, as instructed, in the RTO T-shirt and jeans and boots, ready to work. Since then I've learned a number of skills (some of them involving power tools!) that have enabled me to assist in installing grab bars, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and making other small improvements. I've traveled all over my beloved adopted home town and met some incredibly selfless people, as well as members of my community who have dazzled me with their stories, their memories, their walls full of family photos, their grace and - yes - gratitude. I've had a number of preconceptions shattered, which is the second-best benefit of volunteering, after the incredible optimism boost it gives me, one that lasts long after I get home.

unofficial mascot of the RTO crew,
on recent rainy outing in the ol' RTO pickup
Anyway, I know that many of us face the gift-giving season with a sinking heart. What can we give our loved ones that will actually express our love, that they don't already have? (other than the kids, of course - I'm a firm believer in spoiling the kids in my life absolutely silly) This year I'd like to gently suggest you consider a gift in your friends' names to an organization that can help other folks.

And if you need suggestions, I'll give you three.

Rebuilding Together Oakland

Reading Partners

The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

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