On Gratitude, Suffering, and Saving the World

On Gratitude, Suffering, and Saving the World
Helen Rose
November 21, 2018

Disclaimer: Though it may seem otherwise on the surface, the purpose of this post is not to stroke my own ego. The purpose is to demonstrate the importance of living our values.

As Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray said, “this is no time for casual faith.” My conscience and my faith motivate me to answer the call of love at every opportunity. I do not do it for likes or recognition. I do it because the right thing to do is to help a fellow traveler whenever and wherever I can.

I am not good at math. I am also an eternal optimist and a little bit impulsive, sometimes likely to throw myself headfirst into something and not realize until it is too late that I probably should have thought things through a little more.

As a child, this got me into trouble often. Things like gluing a classmate’s foot to the floor, dumping potting soil on the head of another child who bullied me, or starting a petition to improve the cafeteria food came naturally to me, and I often failed to consider the consequences before I leaped into action. I also spent a good bit of time in the principal’s office.

As an adult, it is much  more tame and looks a little more like finding a recipe which calls for four cups of cubed sweet potatoes and ending up with sixteen cups of cubed sweet potatoes.

What can I say, I’m just a go big or go home kind of person.

Henry and I are attending two Thanksgiving events tomorrow – a potluck at one of Knoxville UU churches, and Happy Fat Kid Day Shenanigans, orchestrated by my aunt. I was charged with making a side dish to share for both.

So, this morning, Henry and I headed to Wal-Mart with the rest of humanity to get ingredients. I picked out six large sweet potatoes, some strawberry Poptarts, some holiday decorations, a bottle of glittery nail polish, and a Paw Patrol blanket. Just the necessities, really.

Henry fell asleep on the way home. I put him on the couch with his Paw Patrol blanket and got to work peeling and chopping sweet potatoes. About halfway through, I thought, “maybe I got too many sweet potatoes. I should probably just double the recipe.”

When all was said, done, chopped, and boiled, I had sixteen cups of sweet potatoes. So, I quadrupled the recipe and wondered what I was going to do with all of these freaking sweet potatoes.


A while back, while working at a restaurant, a member of the kitchen staff accidentally overcooked some garlic knots. They were a little brown, but definitely edible. Unfortunately, standard operating procedure in most restaurants is to discard anything unsellable and document it as food waste. Fortunately, I was able to convince my manager to let me take them to a homeless shelter instead.

That evening, I drove to Knox Area Rescue Ministries in downtown Knoxville. I carried in two plastic shopping bags of slightly-burned garlic knots and apologized to the man at the desk that I hadn’t brought more. There were easily a couple hundred people in and around the facility and they all needed to be fed. What could a few dozen slightly-burned garlic knots do to even begin putting a dent in their hunger?

The man at the desk shook his head and thanked me. He told me that they accept food donations in the form of any amount of anything edible. They piece together the donations with other food sources and they come together to make full meals.

I left, still convinced that I had not done enough and wishing I could do more.


So, what about the sweet potato predicament?

When Henry wakes up from his nap, we will get in the car and take two pans of sweet potato casserole to Knox Area Rescue Ministries.

Though my initial instinct is to protect Henry in every situation, I cannot protect him from the truth of the injustice of the world. What I can do is teach him that his voice matters, and his privilege is a platform to use his voice to challenge the inequality which so often causes suffering.

And honestly, I don’t know that I would want Henry to be protected from the truth. Being sheltered from suffering not only postponed the Buddha’s enlightenment by years, but also did not change the fact that suffering exists.

Months ago, I was lamenting to one of my dear friends that I could not singlehandedly save the world. She listened patiently and then told me gently, in the way she so often does when I’m getting worked up about something with an obvious solution:

“Saving the world is a team effort.”

Two pans of sweet potato casserole will not feed all the hungry people in Knoxville tonight, but they will help.


On this Thanksgiving Eve, I’d like to suggest that there were no natives or pilgrims at that gathering in 1621.

I suggest that there were all natives and pilgrims simultaneously.

Native to their own ways of life, beliefs, and needs. Pilgrims in a new journey of togetherness and in their individual journeys through life and the Universe.

There is no us or them.

There is only us, and together, one step at a time with everyone doing what they can, is the only way we can all move forward.


“And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.”
King James Bible, 1 Corinthians 12:26

“Be excellent to each other.”
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
Audre Lorde

humancasserole for days

2 responses to “On Gratitude, Suffering, and Saving the World”

  1. […] course, it is a lovely sentiment to have a day dedicated to celebrating love. However, much like Thanksgiving should not be the only day we focus on gratitude, Valentine’s Day should not be the only day we focus on celebrating […]


  2. […] weekend before Thanksgiving, my mother was being especially awful to me, and something just snapped in me. I started packing. […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: