We who live in Utah have much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. We live in a beautiful, safe place, nestled in the mountains, sheltered from the worst of nature’s fury, free to worship, speak and live as we see fit, collectively blessed beyond all of history’s measures of wealth, health, and prosperity. Surely, of all people who have ever lived on the face of the earth, we must be the most fortunate.
I hope that today, amidst the hustle and bustle, the Turkey Bowls, the feasting and associated belt-loosening, the Lions and the Cowboys, the black-Friday lines, and the midnight snacking on leftovers, that we will give thanks – sincere, humble, heartfelt thanks – to God for blessing us as a people so abundantly. And may we also show our thanks through giving to others.
I have paid close attention to the news coverage over the last couple of weeks about typhoon Haiyan, which slammed into the central islands of the Philippines, killing more than 10,000 people and leaving another 630,000 homeless. I know the area devastated by the storm. I have spent time in Cebu and Bacolod. I know people from Tacloban, the costal city leveled by the storm surge. Many of my friends have been affected by this latest natural disaster. It feels strange, immoral even, to celebrate the abundance of Thanksgiving here, when so many are suffering there.
On Thanksgiving afternoon, my wife’s uncle, Nathan Leishman, who helps coordinate the disaster relief efforts of the Humanitarian Services of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will return home after spending eleven days in the Philippines. I spoke with him the night before he left. He was focused, having personally waded into the aftermath of natural disasters in Japan, Haiti, Indonesia, Pakistan, Columbia and a half-a-dozen other countries over the last few years, knowing exactly what to expect — precisely nothing, except heart-rending loss and terrible suffering.
That night, Nate was already engrossed in the complexities, and, in some cases, the outright impossibilities, of getting food, water and medical supplies to people who were balancing precariously on the edge of starvation and destitution even before the 170 mph winds tore through their tin-roof and particle board homes. It takes a unique combination of skill and determination to organize amidst chaos, to not become overwhelmed by the enormity of it all, working day and night, catching moments of fitful sleep on palates of boxes in a military aircraft hangar or on the floor of a chapel surrounded by hundreds of the newly homeless. Knowing personally of Nate’s service, the extended periods of time he spends in less than ideal physical conditions, far away from his loved ones, I am grateful. Knowing of the work done through LDS Humanitarian Services, where 100 percent of all donations go to those in need, I am motivated to do and give more.
While the poor are always with us, and misery is part of the human condition, we must not insulate ourselves, especially today, from the suffering of others, becoming numb to their need, anesthetized to their pain. Instead, our very abundance, if we are to express true thanksgiving, should impel us to action – to giving. On this Thanksgiving holiday, may we follow the counsel of the Savior of mankind to give to others, remembering his promise that as we “give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.”
Dan Liljenquist is a former state senator and U.S. Senate candidate.