AMID THE HOLIDAY HURRY, MENTALLY HANDICAPPED GIVE THANKS FOR BASICS

AMID THE HOLIDAY HURRY, MENTALLY HANDICAPPED GIVE THANKS FOR BASICSYour turkey probably was still warm Thursday when the advertisers began their assault of Santa sales in the newspapers and on radio and television.

For most of us, we look forward to Christmas. It's a fun time of year. But it's sad we're so impatient to forget the "I'm thankful" holiday and get on with the "I want" holiday.

Gratitude is not the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others. - CiceroIf we weren't in such a hurry to do the Christmas shopping, we might be able to celebrate our gratitude a little longer.

For at least one group of Utah County residents, however, gratitude for even the simplest of things encompasses more than a day of overeating or gift-giving.

"You only have to hear them pray to know," said Kathy Edwards, who runs Recreation for Adult Handicapped in Provo. "It's very childlike, very innocent. We've got some who pray, and you'd swear there's a visual contact there somewhere."

About 550 mentally or emotionally handicapped "clients" of all ages participate in RAH's activities, the latest of which was the organization's annual Thanksgiving dinner.

"We have a lot of kids who don't have a mom or dad, who don't have a family," Edwards said. But they're thankful just the same, especially for a turkey dinner shared with friends.

"A lot of normal people are not aware of their emotional involvement in the dinner" or in the holiday season, Edwards said. "Their feelings are on the surface."

As last year, several of RAH's clients feel so fortunate that they want to share with others this Christmas by helping a family through United Way's Sub-for-Santa program.

Because the mentally handicapped give so much, their emotional involvement is strong, Edwards said. And when they feel gratitude, they do so deeply.

While others might complain about having only a part-time job, Brooke says she's thankful for the 15 hours she works weekly for the U.S. Forest Service. The money helped her throw a Christmas party last year for some of friends at RAH.

But most of all, Brooke said, "I'm thankful for my family and friends and what they do for me. Families go the extra mile for you. They're a good thing to be thankful for."

Shauna, too, is grateful for her parents and their support when she participates in Special Olympics.

"I'm also grateful for my graduation from Oakridge school in 1990," Shauna said, because then she'll be able to apply for a job at a fast-food restaurant.

Dina and Hal also mention gratitude for family and friends, their jobs at the Central Utah Enterprises sheltered workshop, the community and their life in Utah.

"I can honestly say I've never heard them say they're thankful for a radio or a bicycle. It's always the very basics of life," Edwards said.

The mentally handicapped have a lot to teach not only about gratitude, but also about acceptance.

"Every day in their lives, they face some degree of hurt, stress or discrimination. Our society wants to be accepting, but we're still a society of how we look, dress, act, speak. We're a society of appearances."

But as people who have worked with the mentally handicapped know, she said, "These kids teach you about life. They teach you so many lessons and don't even realize it."

Such as lessons about the gratitude we should feel for the world's beauty and life's opportunities. And lessons about the value of human relationships.

Her kids may be slow to learn, Edwards said, but they're not slow to love _ or to teach the rest of us how to.

Deseret News