What I’m Grateful For This Thanksgiving

The giant steel door cracked open and began to press on my back. A pungent smell, vastly resembling death, wafted overhead while cold, damp air seeped from the dark cavern within. As my rail thin body was forced to lunge forward, I saw my life flash through my mind. For a brief second, I thought this is it. This is the end. I was sure I was going to die.

It was a hot and muggy day in June, 2002. I was in Los Angeles helping my oldest child, Michelle, move out of her apartment. She was just finishing her junior year at UCLA and had planned to move home for the summer. When school commenced in September, there would be a new apartment and different roommates. In the meantime, everything had to go into storage.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” I exclaimed, as I entered the dingy first floor dwelling. “All this is yours?”

Assessing her tiny abode that previously housed three young women, I was shocked to see the living room full of cardboard boxes that nearly touched the ceiling. Her queen size mattress was propped up against one wall, and in the middle of the room her dilapidated gray couch seemed to sag under the weight of one too many out-of-control college parties.

“Yeah,” she cheerfully replied, patting me on the back. “I guess you can collect a lot of stuff in a year.”

Stuff? More like garbage, I wanted to say. “I don’t think I can get this all into the car. And what about the sofa and bed?” I asked. “We probably need a trailer.”

“Oh don’t worry, mom. I rented a U-Haul truck.”

I could see she was proud of her thoroughness in preparing for this adventure, but a new worry surfaced in my mind. Who was going to drive the six-wheeled monster? Los Angeles can be a nightmare in a four-wheel drive SUV. From what I’d already experienced, it seemed that the inhabitants of this crazy town drive like they’re high on any number of  illegal substances the way they recklessly speed to their destinations. Then there was the issue of truly violent road rage. Just looking cross-eyed at a rude driver was cause for a gun to be pointed in your face.

Michelle grabbed her keys and  ushered me to the front door – nudging ever so gently. “Come on, mom. We need to go pick it up. I put it under your name, so that means you’ll have to be the one to drive.”

“Me?” I screamed. “Don’t you have some guy friends who can help with this?”

“Sorry, they’ve all gone home for the summer.” Kissing me on the cheek, she reassured, “We can do this.”

Two hours later, after loading the truck with what felt like a lifetime of acquisitions, I carefully maneuvered the vehicle through every side street I could see and enter. Bouncing along, it felt as if the shock absorbers were completely worn thin. Each new bump shot our bodies to the cabin ceiling and the screeching brakes left me with the concern – would this beast of machinery actually hold if we had to stop suddenly? There was no way I was going to take this tanker-sized brute on a main road, let alone the freeway.

We finally arrived at the “Pack It Yourself” storage lot. I looked for the garage units and wondered which one would be ours. But all I saw was a building three stories tall.

“Michelle, this can’t be the place,” I asked, puzzled. “Where do they store people’s things?”

“I have no idea,” she replied, just as confused. “But this is where they told me to come.”

Surprisingly, we were in exactly the right spot. The cube-like tower, with no windows and only one way to enter, actually contained story-after-story of storage units. We had the happy fortune to be assigned a unit on the top floor with only one working elevator.

“You have got to be kidding,” I mumbled to myself. “How in the hell are we going to get all this crap up there?” We pushed the wobbling-wheeled dolly to the truck and together we unloaded her world, piece by piece. “Okay, we got these suckers into the truck,” I said, with confidence. “This should be nothing.”

But I couldn’t have been more misinformed. Loading a twelve-foot, over sized couch onto a four-foot by three-foot platform proved to be a disaster. Getting it onto the metal base was not the problem. It was maneuvering it into the elevator and around sharp narrow corridors.

“Damn!” I screamed, as the entire end unit fell off and onto my big toe. “I think I broke it!”

“Mom, are you okay?” Michelle sheepishly asked, realizing we should have hired some help with this massive project. She quickly encouraged, “We’re almost done. We can do this.”

After thirty cardboard boxes, two minor injuries and an hour of hard labor, there was only one piece left to go – the mattress built for two. This proved to be even harder than the sofa. There was literally no more room in the inn, except a few inches. Shoving it through the ten-foot high metal closet door, both our bodies held the foam structure upwards. We rammed it in as it flopped forward and back, slamming against our faces. Finally, we managed to squish the Serta Perfect Sleeper in and quickly closed the door.

A low rumble slowly began and soon, we panicked at the sounds of items tipping from behind the metal wall. “Quick, Michelle. Push hard!” I screamed.

Placing our five-foot, five-inch frames against the door, we forced our backsides up the cold steel, trying to keep the door shut, but the displacement of items within just became worse and pummeled the door. First there were the sounds of boxes tumbling over. Next the crashing of lamps and finally the tinkling of shattered glass.

“Oh God, Michelle. I think your dishes just fell over!” I screamed. “It’s all going to fall on us!”

“No mom, push harder.”

Adrenaline surged through our veins, and miraculously, superhuman strength found it’s way to every limb. With one last giant shove, the door closed. I whipped the padlock from my pant back pocket and, without hesitation, put it in it’s place and fastened it tight

“Wow, we did it, mom!” Michelle yelled out, jumping up and down, hugging me tight.

Feeling the contagious excitement of my beautiful child, I couldn’t help but get caught up in the moment. Somehow, we did the unthinkable. Two women, with barely 200 pounds between them, loaded up a rickety truck, found their way through the back, narrow streets of Los Angeles (without killing anyone), and reloaded the contents to their summer home.

“You’re right, honey!” I cheerfully responded, despite the painful throb of my damaged foot. “We did it and without a man to help! If we can do this, we can do anything!”

Today, I look back on this Ah Ha moment and realize I was stronger than I ever gave myself credit and not just in the physical sense. 2002 was a time of great emotional upheaval for me. My children’s father and I were in the middle of a divorce. My self esteem and worth were utterly destroyed. I felt completely lost, not to mention alone. For twenty-two years, I relied on a man to help me and now I had to do everything by myself. I had to learn how to repair the dilapidated fence as well as our disintegrating family life. But somehow I made it through

What I’ve since discovered is that we all have inner strengths that we rarely tap into unless called to action. We go through our daily routine, checking off the to-do list, following one step after the other. Then, from out of no where, we are slapped across the face with adversity. We find out a family member or friend is sick and most likely will die. Our financial stability blows up in our faces because our investments go off the projected plan. Or, in some cases, the one thing you dreamed would never happen – does.

Where does this power come from to carry on? To persevere? How are we so resilient? Many would say it originates at one’s core, but I believe it comes from a higher source. Whether we want to call it God or a intense spiritual energy, when we pull that strength from the center of our soul, WE CAN DO ANYTHING.

Since that pivotal moment at the storage unit door, I’ve been called upon to find my own strength many times over. There was the loss of my mother and several dear friends. With my divorce, I became property rich and cash poor. Months of sleepless nights kept me wondering how I’d ever be able to hold my financial life together. I have been forced to do things of which I never thought I was capable. Most significantly, balancing my checkbook. And with each step, I instinctively knew, if I held onto my faith, I wasn’t alone. All I had to do was pray for help.

This Thanksgiving I plan to be thankful for all life’s challenges and broken toes. Through them, I’ve found new, stronger pieces of me. I’m still here forging ahead, with my angel on my shoulder. I’ve learned to believe her when she says, “You can do this!” This gift is there for all of us. All we have to go is accept it with an open heart and wait for the blessing.

What will you be grateful for as you sit down to dinner with your loved ones?
Happy Thanksgiving!