The Spirit of Thanksgiving

Nov 22, 2023

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, I’d like to take the opportunity to tell you about a man named Edward—or Jessie, depending on which he is using at the time—because in my mind he embodies the humble attitudes of gratitude and contentment that the holiday is supposed to represent.

Starting years back, I would bring Edward sandwiches and cold bottles of water every so often, because he lives on the streets. At least during his waking hours.

To this day I’m not exactly sure where he spends his nights, but I do know that most of Edward’s daytime hours are spent sitting (or reclining) on a retaining wall on a frontage road beside one of the busiest stretches of highway in Madison, WI.

Edward is a black man, maybe in his sixties. He usually wears a weathered derby cap over his thinning hair; he always wears a tattered overcoat, rain or shine; and he always has a thousand-pound backpack with him.

Sometimes, when talking to Edward, I peek inside of that dirty backpack as it sits open on the retaining wall: it is stuffed with notepads, books, a CD player, and who knows what else.

Edward spends his days listening to his CDs, reading his books, occasionally conversing with himself, maybe drinking some tallboys of Milwaukee’s Best Ice, and guess what else? Writing.

I used to live a few blocks away from that frontage road where Edward spends his days, and so I began bringing him food and a few bucks from time to time. After a while, Edward began to recognize my car when I pulled into the empty parking lot by his retaining wall. He was always happy to see me, and to accept the grilled chicken breast sandwiches on pretzel buns that I made for both of us.

The last time I saw Edward, he was excited because he had some writing to show me, a short story he’d been working on.

He patted a hand on the retaining wall and invited me to “have a seat.” Just the same as if he were inviting me into his home. He was glad to see me, and to offer some hospitality.

He asked how I’ve been. What have I been up to?

For a man who could preoccupy himself with many of his own concerns, he always begins conversation by asking about me.

As much as Edward might enjoy any snacks or dollars I bring him, he enjoys talking even more. He enjoys the five minutes of human connection. I’m not sure if Edward ever had a wife or children or a best friend, but I know that he now spends most of the day in solitude.

For a man who could potentially be dealing with many inner demons, he’s found a way to be comfortable in his own company.

The more I talked with Edward over the years, the more he began to open up. The more he told me about his past life, the one, he says, where he was a professional writer with an agent and some money (before “some things happened").

But Edward doesn’t obsess over himself, or feel sorry for himself because of misfortune.

I remember one occasion visiting with Edward specifically. It was springtime, and he asked what had I been up to over the winter? Had I traveled anywhere?

I told Edward about how I’d traveled to Miami for a bit, and about how, upon returning to Wisconsin, I’d often driven my wife to school during the frequent snowstorms because the roads made her uncomfortable. And then I asked how he’d gotten by during the bitter winter.

“Well, I almost got frostbite; almost got stranded out there in a bad storm,” he said.

“You mean you don’t have somewhere regular you stay at night?” I asked.

“Yeah, but there was a little problem with the arrangement. But I got it straightened out,” he said, seemingly eager to change the subject. “Hey, you got another one of those devotional books you wrote? Something happened with the other one you gave me. If you got another one that would be good.”

“Absolutely,” I said. “I’ll bring one next time I come by.”

When I finish visiting with Edward and wave goodbye as I drive away, a hint of sadness always hangs in the air. Obviously one can’t help but wonder about Edward’s history, about what those “things that happened” were.

But there is also a feeling of peace in the air every time I leave Edward, because I feel uplifted by our interaction.

My interactions with Edward make me grateful for what I have in my life, because a couple of slight turns and any one of us could be Edward, I think.

And his gratitude is an uplifting example, too.

Edward never asked me (or from what I can tell anyone else) for a dime. But he is always grateful for anything I offer—be it dollars, chicken sandwiches and snack bags, or bottled water. And he is especially grateful for the short conversations.

Edward embodies gratitude, and he is a great example of finding little pieces of happiness in the day as well. Like the Apostle Paul, he has found a way to be content in all circumstances.

He isn’t yelling or complaining or giving up on breathing just because he's on the street all day. No, he's finding little pieces of happiness in life, despite his struggles. Whether his happiness is found in listening to a CD, reading a good book, working on a new piece of writing, or enjoying a tallboy of beer, he finds it.

We can all learn something from him.

No matter how difficult life might be for you at times, I urge you to take a moment today and every day to count your blessings and be grateful.

And I urge you, despite difficulties, to find your little pieces of happiness in life. Find a way to be content.

Because when we do that, the wealth we already have becomes apparent, and the future begins to look a lot brighter.

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About the Author

Michael Priebe is a writer and wellness coach who has helped people from all over the world understand antidepressant withdrawal, benzodiazepine withdrawal, anxiety, stress, and healing. In coaching he has worked one-on-one with individuals from nearly twenty countries, and his Lovely Grind YouTube videos inspire thousands of viewers each month. He invites you to inquire about his coaching today to find the knowledge and inspiration needed to fuel your own wellness journey. 

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