The holidays, once more, are upon us. I know, I know, let’s hear the cynical comments about how everyone is so thankful on Thursday and then killing each other 24 hours later on Black Friday. But I think that at least some people celebrate the actual spirit of Thanksgiving; I certainly do. No one wants to be “that guy” who sits at the table and urges everyone to say what they’re thankful for, but I’ll still embody that cliché on a personal level, because there’s plenty that I’m thankful for.
Just a little over nine years ago, I was homeless. But it still seems like yesterday to me. It was only for four days, but I didn’t know that at the time. I had to sit on the curb beside this little Chinese place in Jersey at 3:00 in the morning, shivering and getting stares from passersby, with a hoodie and a shopping bag full of personal effects the only items I had to my name after being kicked out of my apartment (I was later able to retrieve more of my stuff and put it in storage until a later time). My own family had told me I didn’t have a place to sit at their table, or to sleep upon their floors, for that matter. (Specifically, my cousin, who lived in Garfield and told me and my mother, after letting us stay for one night, to not contact her anymore.) I went to stay at a shelter soon after, and endured long periods of poverty and starvation (literally speaking) before, in between, and after.
I remember going to the store for the senior citizens in the neighboring building during my pre-teen years in Garfield, so that they would give me a tip, which I would use to feed myself and my mother (usually a bag of plain pasta was the cheapest, or a loaf of Italian bread). I always found ways to manage, but it was always just barely.
I remember very clearly the Thanksgiving of 2005, when I shook bodily from not eating for seven days, and my mother was shut up in her bedroom crying because she had reached her breaking point. There was no turkey, nothing to drink but tap water, and nothing to eat unless I wanted to have a packet of salt for a small burst of energy. It was cold because the heat was off (I don’t even remember why at this point), we had no TV and no furniture except for beds and a single couch in the living room, there would be no Xmas tree that year, and I couldn’t see any way out of the life I was living. I was definitely at my all-time low that year. Everyone else was with their families, everyone else seemed to have more, and I just felt empty.
But it just goes to show you that things change, because now I have a good job, I support myself, I live with a roommate who’s a good cook and has made turkey and duck alike for Thanksgiving in past years, and I’m literally going to Paris two days after the holiday, on Nov. 28. Things have changed in a major way, and I think, really, if I can take anything away from that, it’s that no one should ever give up. There were times when I had seriously dark thoughts and was starting to question existence, but I’m glad certain things – my friends, my writing and artistic talents – tethered me to some form of happiness, because I wore it like armor and carried it with me through all the hard times.
I will admit that my life has so far been book-ended by good times, with a really bad time in between. My childhood, for example, was fantastic. I had great Thanksgivings; I had turkey, I watched the parade in New York, I even went to New York one Thanksgiving with my parents and visited the Statue of Liberty. The poverty, hunger, etc. came during my teen years. And then I overcame all that. So I’m proud of myself for carving out a better life (to use a turkey analogy) for myself. Don’t ever call it quits, because then you’ll never know what could have been. Soldier on through all of it, and be thankful for what little good you do have in your life during those dark times. If I didn’t have my friends in Garfield during that period, I probably would not be here now. So even though my family rejected and disowned me, as it turns out, I got a very different family, and I would not trade them for the world. You all know who you are.
So while it is a cliché to state what you’re thankful for, I have done just that. I’m thankful for what I have today and for the way things turned out. Now I have a wisdom that I might not have had if things happened differently. I appreciate the comfort of a warm bed to sleep in and don’t take it for granted. I look around in my bedroom, at my books, and laptops, and other possessions, and realize that these things, these material goods, are a luxury that many around the world do not have. That’s why I’m against the digitization of books, for example. When I open a novel, it’s so much more to me now than it ever was before I went through what I went through. It’s a piece of art; it’s something that people took the time to put together – the cover art, the editing, the paper, the ink, the story itself. It’s something to be admired and valued.
And in mere days from now, when I look out of a hotel window and see that Eiffel Tower in the distance, or when I’m covering the climate conference while standing on European soil for the first time in my life, I’m going to be thankful for that, too. Nothing in life should be taken for granted. Everything is precious, and that’s something I will forever remember. The hard times taught me that.
Note: Blake Deppe will be traveling to Paris with Teresa Albano to cover the 2015 United Nations Climate Conference. You can support that by donating to our campaign on Indiegogo.
This article was reposted from Blake Deppe’s official blog.
Photo: Blake Deppe/PW