The morning was dark, and cold. Well before sunrise, before most of Washington had awoken, the crisp, chill January air held a solemn stillness. In the bleak mid-winter, who would roust themselves at such an hour—and why?
At the White House press briefing Monday, Sarah Huckabee Sanders asked reporters to name one thing they’re thankful for before asking their questions—a common ritual many families will repeat as they sit down to Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.
Expressing gratitude represents one true measure of human kindness. The old hymn sung at many church services Thursday reminds us that among the gifts to the Lord most pleasing are humble, thankful hearts.
But perhaps this most American of holidays inspires us to an even higher calling—focusing not just on thanks, but on giving. In the lesson of the ten lepers, Jesus praises the sole leper of the ten (a Samaritan) who returned to give thanks upon being cured. Luke’s gospel ends the lesson with the leper’s expression of thanks. But given the power of the gift bestowed—both to the leper and to us—is a mere expression of thanks sufficient?
Nearly two years ago, I walked out into that January morning, at an hour when I, like most, would normally be availing myself of the comforts of my bed. I began my New Year’s resolution, one I kept for all of last year, and hopefully every year to come: To give back by volunteering regularly.
While I had volunteered in the past, I had gotten out of the habit, and recognized I needed to renew my involvement in my community. Moreover, as a conservative, I felt a responsibility to put my political principles into practice. I may not support a role for government in solving every social ill, but that does not mean I should not support other organizations that do.
Quite the contrary, in fact. Conservatives in particular should feel a strong sense of obligation to put our proverbial money—and time—where our mouth is in supporting charitable institutions.
Fortunately, a newfound commitment to volunteering quickly became a good habit, one I have no wish to give up any time soon. That good habit stems in no small part from the knowledge that one is helping others, and the gratitude that comes from them. Therein lies a paradox: The more time I spend giving back to others, the more I feel like I have received far more than I have given.
My volunteer work represents a welcome change of pace from my career. Serving breakfast at a soup kitchen requires no academic training, and none of the mentally taxing tasks associated with analyzing legislation, or researching policy. It merely requires a willingness to rise early in the morning, and perform some basic cooking and cleaning tasks. The only prerequisite is the easiest one to meet: A willingness to serve others.
By that standard, giving opportunities exist all around us. Sending a supportive e-mail or text to a friend having a bad day. Spending time on the phone with a distant relative. Surrendering a seat on the Metro to another passenger. We only need take the time to find them.
A few years ago, the combination of mental recall and pure good luck brought me a financial windfall on a Manhattan soundstage. At the time I said I wanted to give back to the people and causes that meant the most to me. In the time since, I’ve found opportunities to do just that.
Ironically, while I can’t recall a single “best” present I ever received (that windfall excepted), I can recall several memorable gifts I’ve given others. But that is perhaps how it should be, for the gifts we all receive are too numerous to count, and those we give can never repay those we have received.
So this Thanksgiving, don’t just give thanks, but give—period. You’ll always be glad you did. I know I am.