JAMES BEHRENS: Sometimes those who have the least are the most thankful

'Tis the season of, or for, Thanksgiving. Many of us have much for which to be thankful. And as many, if not more, have little reason to express gratitude. Or so it may seem, on the face value of things. Upon a closer look, things are not what they seem to be at a distance.

We who have, and have in abundance, tend to assume that those who lack what we have just might wish that they had what has come our way. We do not have much here at the monastery but I would include us in the group that is worry-free. Our needs are taken care of. We are not in danger of losing our house, or our jobs, or people to care for us. We have much for which to be thankful.

I, for one, wonder if it is God we should thank or the many people who help us with their generosity. Many people have given a lot that we may stay here and go about our lives.

Over the years, I have met some people who made me think twice about the supposed happiness that an abundance of material things bring. They were content with so little and did not look about them with envy. They had enough to get by and somehow realized that what was simply enough was just that -- enough. To want more would have been a move into the realm of greed.

I remember one guy who stopped by the rectory many years ago. He rang the doorbell and when I answered it, he looked at me and said he was hungry. "No money," he added. "Just something to eat."

I invited him inside and went into the kitchen. We chatted for a while as I fixed him a plate of food from the refrigerator. He was very friendly and talkative. I gave him the plate and something to drink. He thanked me and headed on his way. Later I found the plate and the glass on the front steps.

Several years later I was in the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York. I used to go there to "people watch." A man walked passed me and I immediately recognized him as the guy who stopped by the rectory.

I ran after him and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned, and recognized me immediately. "Hey, Father -- how is it going? How are things in New Jersey?" We got out of the rush of people and found a place to chat. He told me that he lived on the streets, that the shelters were dangerous places. He lived on the streets. He said he had friends. They watched out for each other.

I remember that it was near Thanksgiving. I offered him some money and he said no -- but a dinner would "hit the spot."

So we found a place and shared a meal. He was a Vietnam vet who had post traumatic stress syndrome. He told me about living from day to day and how that helped. He wanted nothing more than food and a place at night to sleep.

We parted ways and I never saw him again. I wonder if he is still alive, still getting what he needs to get by. He was a walking, living hunger who brought home to me all that I have -- maybe too much -- and how little it takes to help someone get through a day.

He is a living reminder to me that I should be thankful to God for people like him -- I was able to give him just enough. He did not want and did not need more. I hope he is still alive, sleeping well, out of harm's way and in the company of his friends.

Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Ga. 2625 Highway 212 S.W., Conyers. His email address is james@trappist.net.