As the car pulled away from the curb, my eyes slowly closed as I heaved a long sigh. Visions of her dark, hollow eyes and hungry hands danced behind my lids, reminding me of the pain and tragedy I had seen.
I never had thought about the real meaning of Thanksgiving until that year. My grandparents do a lot of community service in their town: Lititz, Pennsylvania. When I was offered the chance to help serve the homeless on Thanksgiving morning, I didn't exactly jump at the chance, but then my curiosity got the best of me.
Before I knew it, we were pulling up in front of a grungy-looking building. The smell of poverty and decay was suffocating. The sidewalks were cracking and the lawn hadn't been cared for. The inside wasn't much better. A quick glance explained why. Resting in corners, only speaking to friends known to their imaginations, were "bums" waiting for yet another day to pass them by. This day was different, however. It was Thanksgiving day: a day when you give thanks for all you've been blessed with. Looking around, I realized just how little these unfortunate souls had to be thankful for.
One lady in particular stuck in my mind. She walked up to where I was serving food, wearing an old pair of tennis shoes and clutching an overcoat to her chest. She stood in front of me for a moment, gazing into my eyes. It was as if she was searching for something, some sort of answer. Then she looked down at the bowl of steaming oatmeal I was offering her. Her eyes seemed to drag behind as she swept her head up to look at me again. I offered the most sincere smile I could muster. Her look of confusion turned into one of complete gratitude. She smiled the saddest smile I have ever seen. As she took the bowl from my hands, I noticed a large, blue vein protruding from her frail, shaking hand. She began to walk away but bumped the spoon out of her bowl. I quickly bent down to pick it up - just as she did. Our eyes locked for what seemed like forever. I blinked - she was already hurrying away. I stood up and stared after her. I felt the tears well up in my eyes as I bent down to clean the spilled oatmeal. I was distaught. My heart went out to these people. Yet at the same time I felt myself getting angry. How could they let it get so bad? How could we let it get so bad?
I began to think of all that's been given to me: good health, a loving family, a warm house. It was that morning that I really learned what Thanksgiving was all about. That night at dinner I said my own silent prayer, thanking God for all his gifts and for that little old lady at the mission who taught me the real meaning of Thanksgiving. fl
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.