The cornucopia. It originated as a goat’s horn, filled to overflowing with fruits and vegetables and used in feasts. Today, we typically use a horn shaped basket instead of a goat’s horn and place it on the main table as a Thanksgiving centerpiece. However, symbolically, the cornucopia represents an abundance of good things! The horn is always overflowing as its bounty spills out, cascading colorful blessings.
My life is a cornucopia. Sure, I have trials and setbacks like everyone. My childhood was not perfect. Currently, my health isn’t always stellar, my relationships sometimes encounter bumps and my job can be mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting. My life, like everyone’s, can be difficult. But sometimes I stop thinking of the difficulties I am going through and I think of the things that never happened in my life.
My child never went hungry.
I worked hundreds of cases where children didn’t get enough to eat. Parents who were using meth or heroine didn’t always remember to feed them. Or they used up the food money on more drugs. And there were some parents, because of developmental delays or mental illness, didnt know how to navigate the complicated public assistance system and couldn’t afford to buy enough food. . For some children, the only meals they got were at school. But what happened when the last dismissal bell rang in June? Summer feeding programs began in some cities for that very reason. Even when times were lean, I have been able to put a nourishing meal on the table. I wonder what these children will be eating for Thanksgiving?
I have never been in a domestic violence situation.
Women and Men who enter into a loving, trusting relationship joyously anticipate the future with their partner. That joy/trust is shattered as the cycle of abuse begins. I have observed the women and children in DV situations. They exhibit hypervigilence: always walking on egg shells but waiting for the next blow. The victims in DV families walk around with fear and shame draping their shoulders like a well worn wool shawl. Both familiar yet uncomfortable. I think of the holidays where they are either isolated from extended family or made to endure a controlled silence while eating their pumpkin pie
I was never molested.
One in three girls will be sexually abused or exploited before they reach 18 years of age. For boys it is only slightly higher.
Let that sink in. Truly sink in.
Studies have now shown that the early abuse of children actually alters their brain. Obviously, chronic abuse causes more of this than a single episode. Children who grow systematically abused by someone who was supposed to love them and protect them, see the world through angry, shame filled eyes. For some reason these children take on the burden of guilt for an act of violence perpetrated on them. They will smile at the Thanksgiving table playing over in their minds how to act better so the promise made that it will never happen again will come true. They want to believe.
I was never abandoned.
It never ceases to amaze me. At least once a week, a child (most likely a teen)) is taken to my office by their family and abandoned. They voluntarily relinquish the custody of their children to strangers. When did it become acceptable to give up on the ones you love? Believe me, I gave my parents plenty of reason to abandon me when I was a teen. But they didn’t. I made their lives miserable at times and they hung in with me. They believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. So how do you abandon your children? These teens, with their behavioral issues will likely share Thanksgiving dinner in a dining hall of a group home with other teens with no family claiming them.
All of my past and future blogs have been or will be written for the encouragement of the social workers who deal with these situations on a daily basis. The indirect trauma they experience comes from listening to the children with not just their ears, but also their hearts. Their dedication is determined through their actions to help these children achieve safety, permanency and well being. And it does take its toll.
But today, as we approach Thanksgiving, i wanted to highlight the victims. The reason we do what we do. I wanted to offer them up for remembrance and understanding.
You see, I can sit down with my family at Thanksgiving , laughing at the same old embarrassing family stories about me and the time I terrorized the neighborhood as a child with red cowboy boots. I can look at my daughter as she prepares devilled eggs and wonder at the strong woman she has become. I can spend the day fellowshipping and eating too much food.
But some can not.
Yes, the career of a social worker is a journey of long hours, sacrifice and compassion fatigue .
But in reflection, my life is a cornucopia. Is yours?