On gratitude and sacrifice

I finally listened to the speech Michelle Obama’s gave at the DNC this morning.  

My husband and I have been largely hiding behind a rock this election season, avoiding politics talk, genuinely overwhelmed by the spars, the divisions, and the pettiness when just a month ago we were living in a nation with five times as many people as this one, and where poverty, human rights, and children’s lives hang in the balance.

But, perhaps predictably, (and don’t worry, I’m not about to really get political here), the First Lady’s speech did strike a chord with me today.  Ironically, the narrative of sacrifice and commitment that she and President Obama expressed in regards to their parents reminded me of some of the culture of filial piety, once so vibrant and pervasive, that is beginning to erode in China today.

But her words about gratitude and sacrifice and humility, about learning from their parents that “so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us, to the janitors who kept our school clean” also reminded me of my own family.

My Grandfather and I this past November.

The story she told about her father struggling to walk with MS and shifting uncomfortably out of bed each morning reminded me of my grandfather who prayed everyday on his knees despite the paralysis in his own legs.  My mother has MS, so she not only knew what it was like to watch her father struggle with his paralysis, but I know what it is like to know and be inspired by someone who does not let her physical disabilities hold her back from serving others.

The sacrifice Mrs. Obama mentioned that her parents made to send her to college reminds me of my own father’s years of getting up before the sun came up and coming home after it went down, all so my sisters and I didn’t have to struggle to pay for school.  It, this gift of education, was my parents’ ultimate gift to their children and only later in life do I relish what a sacrifice it meant and what devotion it took.

My parents on Thanksgiving, 2011.

Mrs. Obama’s stories remind me of the way my dad’s parents’ scraped together during the Great Depression, their determination to live and make do with what they had, and the money my maternal grandparents left to me as they passed on, despite the fact that they always lived with so little themselves.

As Mrs. Obama spoke I realized why these stories are so powerful: they bind us to one another.  They express the gratitude to those who came before us for the lives we live today.  They recognize that the strength of humanity, not just Americans, but of all people, is this willingness to submit that perhaps their dreams won’t come true in their lifetime, but they can come true in the lives of others.

Thank you, Mom and Dad, Gramma and Grandpa, Grandma and Grandad, for loving me so unconditionally, for giving me a life full of possibility and joy, despite what your own lives may have lacked.  Your love inspires me everyday, and I hope when people compliment me on my successes, I remember the people, you, who made them possible.

Who inspires you today?  Who do you thank for your successes?  Who taught you about gratitude, and humility, and sacrifice?

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2 thoughts on “On gratitude and sacrifice

  1. Erin,

    Your words bring tears to my eyes. As I read your post, I thought about the sacrifices my parents and grandparents made for me, too. Even though they have all passed away, the values and Christian faith that they instilled in me will forever be a part of my life. I would have given anything for them to meet Eve…..but I do have the blessed gift of passing all that I have become on to her, all the while knowing that my parents/grandparents care and compassion continues in every step I make in life.

    Warmest blessings,
    Donna

    1. Donna, isn’t telling our stories powerful? I get all choked up when I think of you sharing yours with Eve and what you will learn from her. Cannot believe you’re leaving for China sooo soon! Amazing…

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