The Unexpected Experts in Gratitude

They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving Day in Haiti. I’m reminded, though, as I prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving with family here in the U.S. tomorrow, that the people who I consider to be real thanksgiving experts are predominantly people I’ve gotten to know over my three decades of working in Haiti.

Even more surprisingly, these gratitude experts are mostly people who I would think have the very least to be grateful for — adult survivors of child slavery.

Here’s what marks these people as gratitude experts for me. They display enormous skill in spotting even the smallest graces in their lives and squeezing a huge amount of joy from these things that I totally miss. I’m so moved when I’m with them because I think that if I had lived through what they endured, I would feel nothing but relentless bitterness.

I’m not saying that every survivor of slavery I’ve met has this quality. By no means.

Many survivors seem to be continually tormented by the trauma they endured. And I don’t fault them at all for this.

I’m also not saying that these gratitude experts are completely healed of their wounds. They aren’t and wouldn’t pretend to be.

What I’m saying is that there is a striking concentration of expertise in gratitude among these survivors who I’m honored and grateful to know.

They’ve taught me that gratitude is not just a coping mechanism that allowed them to endure, it’s a powerful force that they use for all of life.

Gratitude is a deep well of energy they use to engage fully in life. It allows them to bring love to difficult relationships. It’s a force multiplier in their struggle for justice. It’s like night vision goggles that allows them to see their way forward when all seems dark.

Because most of these survivors are leaders in the Adult Survivors of Child Slavery Network that Beyond Borders helped launch five years ago, I’ve seen how gratitude animates and sustains their struggle to protect and free enslaved children and advocate for an end to child slavery.

Ultimately, these survivors of slavery have shown me that gratitude is a force for freedom — freedom in every sense.

We are all in need of freedom in some form.

Partly through my interaction with survivors of child slavery, I’ve become conscious of ways that I’m enslaved.

I’m enslaved by privilege and by the arrogance, certainty, and blindness that comes with privilege. I’m enslaved by the comforts, amusements, and distractions that allow me to check out of reality and miss out on what will ultimately bring me much more meaning and fulfillment.

And while the growing awareness of how I’m enslaved can be discouraging, I’m learning that a grateful heart helps get me out of my self-centered focus and gives me the strength to admit my self-deception and to be open to hard truths that can set me free.

I’m also taught by these same survivors to be grateful for you. Rarely do I meet with any of them when they don’t express gratitude for what supporters like you have made possible for them through the organizing, training, and technical support we provide the survivor network.

  • They’re grateful for the still-too-rare opportunity to escape the isolation they’d always felt and to become part of a community of survivors where they feel accepted.
  • They’re grateful for the chance to belong to a community where they feel understood and won’t be doubted just because their testimony sounds too horrific to be true.
  • They’re grateful for the chance to discover that the humiliation and shame that was driven into them is displaced and really belongs to the perpetrators who enslaved them.
  • They’re grateful for the new meaning they’ve found for their lives as they engage in the often dangerous work of protecting and freeing enslaved children and work to build the movement to end child slavery in Haiti.
  • They’re grateful to know that they aren’t in this struggle alone and can count not just on their peers in the network and the Beyond Borders team in Haiti, but they know that they have allies outside of Haiti in people like you.

What is true for survivors — that they find strength in the solidarity shown by people like you — is also true for thousands of others in Haiti who are organizing for more just, equitable, and prosperous communities:

Parents who are able to find and free their children and bring them back home; teachers who for the first time ever have the opportunity to be trained; women and men who are equipped with the skills they need to prevent violence against women and girls, and families who get a hand up to escape extreme poverty.

I want to express my gratitude to you, as well as the gratitude of my colleagues and our board for all those whose lives you are transforming through your generosity.

May this Thanksgiving be especially meaningful for you and be part of building the capacity we all have to be grateful in all things.

With deep gratitude,

David

PS – If you haven’t already, take a look at our fall newsletter for some of the places where we find gratitude: https://beyondborders.net/fall-2019-newsletter/