The past year has been marked by disaster. Earthquakes, a tsunami, floods and hurricanes have claimed countless lives across the globe. Our own nation has not been spared such ravages reaching our shores. Such sudden and uncontrollable events can engender many emotions: fear, despair, hopelessness and heartache. These feelings easily arise from destruction, but such events can also spark a generous reaction. They offer us insight into the inseparable virtues of thanks and giving.
This season, as our country continues to focus on recovery and rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina, the lessons we have learned should not be lost. In Utah, we have been spared disaster on a wide scale, but the floods in St. George caused unforgettable localized destruction. Some of our fellow Utahns lost everything. An entire community experienced how vulnerable human lives and property can become.
Devastation and disaster can give rise to a greater measure of gratitude. Witnessing human suffering and physical destruction can bring into focus the relative ease, prosperity and security which characterize our day-to-day lives. Few worry daily about the structural soundness of their homes, having clean water for their children to drink, or having a way to flee from danger. Yet, when those comforts we so often take for granted are threatened, their value becomes more apparent. We should not forget to count among our blessings the simple benefits of shelter, food and safety when we see how quickly they can disappear.
As we recognize the abundance we enjoy, the true expression of a thankful heart is a giving nature. Disasters have provided unique opportunities for the demonstration of this virtue as well.
The vulnerability that accompanies the destructive force of nature helps us recognize how much we all depend on each other. While one person may be powerless to prepare for or save him or herself in the face of great tragedy, together, we can ease the suffering, provide the necessities and lift our neighbors. The Gulf Coast region cannot house all the homeless, employ the displaced, or rebuild a local economy on its own, but the generous giving of other Americans — often strangers to those in need — has the capacity to address each of these challenges.
The greatest stories to come out of these disasters are not just the heroism of individuals who took risks to evacuate survivors, but the heroism of local elementary students who donated money to relief efforts, of strangers who opened their homes and of a nation that will not falter in providing for its own.
In addition to remembering those who have experienced catastrophic disasters, we can also look close to home and see the many in our community who suffer the daily disasters of disease, poverty, hunger and cold. Just as so many responded to these needs across the globe, across the nation and across our state, we can — and should — do so here at home. Indeed, there are few among us who do not have something to give.
As we gather with family and friends this holiday season in a safe environment with a warm meal, let each of us thankfully reflect on our bounties and be inspired to give a little more.
Jim Matheson represents Utah's 2nd Congressional District.