Gratitude, Thanksgiving, and a Bear
By: Teddy Michel Editor: Wyatt N. Washington
November 17, 2017
Before Teddy Talk for discussion are the issues of gratitude, thanksgiving, and a bear, addressed seriatim. Webster’s defines gratitude as “the state of being [or feeling] grateful. To demonstrate an experience of gratitude, I provide the following story arising from my Jesuit Volunteer (“JV”) year in Anchorage, Alaska.
As a JV, I worked at the Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association (“Four A’s”)—a social service agency for individuals living with human immunodeficiency virus (“HIV”). Several clients shared pieces of their life story, providing opportunities to feel gratitude for my life’s blessings, including: health; supportive family; education; parents and grandparents who taught me the value of family, faith, and fun; understanding housemates in the Anchorage JV house; and the opportunity to live in Alaska—a place possessing the inherent ability to take your breath away each morning as you step out your front door and look to the mountains. In short, my work with individuals living with HIV triggered an inner reflective process, or amplified an inner voice, to be more aware of, and to acutely feel, gratitude.
Similarly, Ignatian Volunteers of Northeastern Pennsylvania also experience gratitude. Ignatian Volunteer Bob Young serves at Friends of the Poor. According to Bob, “Friends of the Poor provides clients with food, clothing, and living essentials to address an immediate life crisis. What I noticed is the high degree of humbleness and gratitude the clients demonstrate for receiving life’s essentials. And perhaps more important is the staff and volunteer’s compassion when providing these services.”
Experiences of gratitude provide an opportunity to transition our lives from a state of being (gratitude) to a state of doing (thanksgiving). Webster’s defines thanksgiving as the “act of providing thanks.” “Thanks” is defined as “kindness”, and the root of “kindness” is affection. Because love is defined as a “strong affection”, then thanksgiving is simply the act of providing love. To demonstrate thanksgiving—the act of providing love—I again share a story from my JV year in Anchorage.
Several months into my JV year, a client died from pneumocystis pneumonia—an opportunistic infection arising from the client’s weakened immune system. One morning the lead case manager visited the client at the hospital. When she returned to the office, she explained that we needed to clean the client’s apartment. Thus, we packed her car with cleaning supplies and drove to the client’s apartment.
As we entered the client’s apartment, I quickly determined that the hundreds of hours of cleaning experience garnered with my siblings on Saturday mornings growing up in Minnesota would be put to the test. While I cleaned for the next several hours, however, my spirit felt light and I failed to feel frustrated, tired, or discouraged. This simple act of cleaning for an individual dying in the hospital created an opportunity to provide love to this client: a moment of thanksgiving.
The next day the lead case manager and I visited the client in the hospital. The client’s pneumonia continued to fill his lungs with fluid, requiring him to wear an oxygen mask. As I approached his hospital bed, the client quickly pulled down his oxygen mask, grabbed my hand, and said, “God Bless you, Teddy. Thank you. God Bless you.”
Ignatian Volunteers also provide acts of thanksgiving to our community. Frank “Mickey” McDonnell volunteers at St. Francis Soup Kitchen in Scranton Monday through Thursday serving guests lunch. Mickey is a cheerful face to greet the guests each day, and the guests cannot say “thank you” enough. As Mickey drives home after his shift, he thanks God for allowing him to be of service to our friends in the community. Finally, whether the guests are stoned, drunk, sober or have a black eye, Mickey sees the image of Jesus Christ in their faces each day, reminding Mickey that our purpose in life is to help others. That is, to be instruments of thanksgiving in our community symphony.
But what happens when we feel our instruments of gratitude and thanksgiving are missing or out of tune? Generally, this question is person-specific, and I possess no magical elixir. I offer, however, the following fool-proof recipe 100% guaranteed to instantaneously locate and tune your gratitude and thanksgiving instruments.
Step One: Lace up your running shoes and head out for a run in the early dawn on the local heritage trail.
Step Two: Run past a large boulder located ten feet off the trail.
Step Three: Hear sticks and branches snap much louder than you know a squirrel and deer break sticks.
Step Four: While continuing to run past the stick-snapping boulder (now ten to fifteen yards away from the boulder), turn your head to see the boulder, which now appears to resemble a black bear, slowly sauntering onto the same trail you are running on.
Step Five: (Now twenty yards away from the black bear) Drop the hammer, book it, sprint as fast as your little feet can fly, and pray that the bear wants nothing to do with you. (And thank you to all Monday morning quarterbacks for reminding me that I’m not supposed to move when noticing a bear).
Step Six: After running at a full out sprint for a half mile, call your wife and request she pick you up because a large black bear is now between you and your house. Just be prepared that said spouse may laugh at you prior to asking if you are alright
Gratitude, thanksgiving and a bear.
 Experiences of gratitude enflame our instinctive desire to help and to be of service to our families, our coworkers, and our friends in the community. As such, these gratitude experiences enhance our capacity to do. That is, our doing is more focused, intense, and concise. Stated differently, Jesus’s first commandment, to love God with our heart, mind, body and soul creates experiences of gratitude. Jesus’s second commandment, to love our neighbor as ourselves, is an invitation to provide thanksgiving—acts of love—towards our neighbors. Do better things. Be a better person.
 Definitions of “thanksgiving”, “thanks”, “kindness”, and “love” from www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary.
Teddy Talk Featuring Laurie Lewis
July 4, 2017
Welcome to the second edition of IVC NEPA Teddy Talk where we share IVC NEPA’s story with our volunteers, partner agencies, friends, and communities. This Teddy Talk edition features Laurie Lewis—the second individual in the past month to accept the Ignatian Volunteer Corp’ invitation to serve as an Ignatian Volunteer. Enjoy!
The Teddy Talk staff recently spoke with our newest Ignatian Volunteer, Laurie Lewis. Laurie resides in Archbald, Pennsylvania and is a proud spouse, mother, sibling, and member of Christ the King Parish.
Laurie Lewis personifies the Ignatian Volunteer Corps’ spirit. She is smart, insightful, caring, and committed to utilizing her gifts, talents, and life experiences to serve others. Additionally, Laurie’s inherent gifts, combined with her thirty-seven years of nursing experience, demonstrate the Ignatian Volunteer Corps’ mission – to greatly enhance a partner agency’s capacity while positively affecting the agency’s employees, volunteers, and clients. Laurie is also deeply faithful. Laurie is involved in various church ministries including serving as a lector at Sunday mass, and a Eucharistic minister to older adults living in nursing homes.
Laurie’s commitment to service derives from her parents: Foster and Marie Tomassoni. Laurie’s parents were Eucharistic ministers, and in their religious, personal, and civic lives, taught Laurie and her siblings the importance of helping others. Specifically, Laurie recalls that her father worked as a local school board director and frequently volunteered to coach little league including, of course, his grandsons’ teams.
Moreover, Laurie views her faith and commitment to service as little miracles, allowing Laurie to persevere through the loss of her adult son. Three years ago, Laurie’s oldest son, Christopher, overdosed on opioids. Christopher was a good man and a valued member of his community. He worked as a nurse, and was well educated, kind, and loved by so many. Like far too many young men and women in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Christopher developed an opiate addiction after being treated for severe pain. After a difficult struggle with his addiction, he overdosed.
Losing Christopher crushed Laurie and her family. As too many parents understand, nothing is worse than the loss of a child. Laurie, however, refused to allow her grief to consume her. Instead, Laurie lives on, one day at a time, and finds hope in her faith, her family, and in utilizing her gifts, talents, and life experiences to serve others. Additionally, Laurie revels in her children’s successes. Laurie’s daughter recently earned her doctorate in physical therapy from the University of Scranton, and Laurie’s younger son will begin studying business at Penn State in the fall.
Laurie understands that Christopher will forever live on in her memory, and more tangibly, in his three-year-old daughter, Molly. Laurie loves spending time with her granddaughter, and feels that Christopher would have wanted her to enjoy her life, and have a strong, loving relationship with Molly.
Further demonstrating redemptive love, Laurie channeled her grief into service. The current opiate epidemic horrifies Laurie, which Laurie believes has taken the lives of far too many good people. Laurie feels that education and early prevention are key. Currently, Laurie serves on the board of a statewide agency addressing addiction prevention, awareness, and treatment issues. Laurie would like to be involved in similar efforts as an Ignatian Volunteer – efforts that will provide education and early prevention to addicts and their families.
Finally, Laurie finds solace in her faith. Through her faith, Laurie understands that God has a reason, even when terrible things happen to good people. Despite the losses suffered by Laurie and her family, Laurie believes “God is merciful and that we are going to have a resurrected life after we leave here.”
Many reasons explain Laurie’s desire to serve as an Ignatian Volunteer. Above all, Laurie believes that, “You’re never going to find all the answers, you just have to find peace by helping others.”
Laurie begins her Ignatian Volunteer experience this September in Scranton, PA.
The Ignatian Volunteer Corps thanks Laurie for her permission to share a part of her life story with our community.
Additionally, the Ignatian Volunteer Corps thanks Peter Kramer, Friends of the Poor Jesuit Volunteer ’16-’17 Scranton, PA, for interviewing Laurie and authoring this edition of Teddy Talk. After completing his Jesuit Volunteer year in August 2017, Peter will begin a Master’s in Public Administration at the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government. Peter looks forward to this next step in his public service career.
Editorial assistance provided by Wyatt N. Washington