Saturday, November 26, 2011

Stop Talking. Start Doing.

Ah, the dichotomy that is Thanksgiving.

On the one hand, it's the only national holiday, in my opinion, that has retained much of its original, beautiful meaning and purpose, which is, of course, slaughtering turkeys, celebrating obesity, and taking land from indigenous people.

In all seriousness, it's great that we have a day set aside for the sole purpose of giving thanks for the good things in our lives.  Although, if you work retail, you really don't have a lot to be thankful for this time of year.  And, if you're Canadian, you celebrate a different date altogether in your tireless yet pointless attempt to be viewed as more than just America's hat.

On the other hand, all the warm, fuzzy altruism of Thanksgiving Thursday is quickly swallowed up by the rampant consumerism that is Black Friday.  This year, Thanksgiving didn't even get the chance to end peacefully before major sales at numerous nationwide retailers, including Walmart, had already begun.  Thankfully, no one was trampled to death in this year's savings scrum.  Instead, we saw consumers handling the shopping stress in much more mature, considerate ways:  with knives, guns and pepper spray.

God bless America.

I realize that countless individuals have already come to these same conclusions; I'm not breaking any idealogical new ground here.  However, never has this inherent dichotomy been more apparent to me than this year.

I, like most Americans, spent my Thanksgiving day awash in self-indulgent gluttony.  By three PM, I'd already gorged myself, and a happy little food fetus was growing inside of me.  (I will withhold the details of the birth of said child.)  I watched two and a half NFL games.  I think I got up off the couch a grand total of four times in eight hours.

At nine PM, I was craving orange juice.  Trop50, to be exact.  Sweetened with stevia.  Less sugar.  All natural.  Cures cancer, mumps and the whooping cough.

Who has the largest selection of orange juice in America?  Walmart, that's who. So, forgetting all the ads I'd seen throughout the day about the 10 PM Black Friday Walmart sale kickoff, I drove to the normally unassuming Walmart on Mill Plain in Vancouver, WA.

The fact that I practically had to park across the river in Oregon should've been my first clue.  Upon entering, I was greeted by the sight of literally over a thousand people milling around the store like frugal, questionably sentient zombies, some pushing multiple carts, waiting for the clock to strike ten so that they could save $6 on their video games or buy another ridiculously cheap, soon-to-be-obsolete 3D TV, thereby ensuring that their family wouldn't have to interact at all for at least another year.

Pushing my way through hordes of people gathered around a guy who was break dancing in the frozen foods aisle, and through another group gathered around two hopelessly overweight women screaming threats at each other, I grabbed my Trop50, paid, and left.

I couldn't shake the sickened feeling in my stomach.  Hundreds of thousands of families across America, spending what little potential quality time they had with each other waiting in line to buy the next thing they didn't need.

I stopped for gas on the way home, at a Texaco that I never go to because it's never all that cheap.  But, it was the only station open, so I pulled in and was greeted by a smiling little old lady.  Never once complaining about the cold weather or the fact that she was working, alone, on Thanksgiving, she pumped my gas, washed my windshield, and asked me all about how my holiday had been.

As she was washing my rear window, I reached into my wallet and took out a $5.

When she handed me my receipt, I handed her the money.  She looked at me funny and reminded me that I'd already paid with my credit card.

"That's for you," I said.  "Thanks for smiling.  Happy Thanksgiving."

"That's too much," she said.  I insisted that she take it, suddenly feeling the weight of my own selfishness.

Her eyes filled with tears.  "Thank you," she said.  "No, thank YOU," I said, and drove off.

As soon as I pulled out of the station and onto Stark Street, I burst into tears, my mind a mess.

Jesus had it right.  It is so much better to give than to receive.

What if?  What if I had spent my Thanksgiving at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen?  What if I would've given that lady a $20 instead of thinking about how much I needed the money?  What if I had taken the time to call or text some people and let them know how thankful I am for them?  What if I would've done anything besides stuff my face and rot my brain on this, the day for giving thanks?  And, more importantly, why do I need a federal holiday to remind me to be, for three minutes at a deserted gas station, the kind of person that I
want to be 24/7?

One simple act of giving so little was the best thing that happened to me all day.

Maybe, just maybe, I need to figure a few things out.  Stop talking.  Start doing.