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Wednesday, Dec 17, 2014
Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Living here is a reason to give thanks

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Once again, for the 37th year, which is all the years we have lived in this house, the gardenia bush next to our front door is decked out in gorgeous white flowers. You crack open the door and it's as if someone dropped a bottle of cheap perfume on the doorstep. I love it.

I've come to associate the bush with Easter, which seems to coincide annually with the blossoming of the gardenias.

Easter is going to mean a busy morning around here as there are two denominations represented in our house. I'll be going to an early Mass and then a Protestant church service a couple of hours later. I'll be so hallowed I might walk on water just for the heck of it. We used to get invited to a Passover seder, as well, and I felt like I was covering all my bases.

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Whatever your faith, this week and time of year is a period of rebirth and redemption. It's a time to take a fresh look around and maybe even pause for a moment to give thanks for the gifts we have.

You would have to be more than a little blind to be ignorant of the world we live in, which at times seems populated with those who have no other purpose than to hurt other people.

Even in our globally connected world with its text messages coming live from whatever disaster or revolution that is happening, we can still turn away, but we don't. We live in a special place.

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We run stories now and then about countrieswhere people live longer than they do in America or where their kids do better in algebra than our kids. We know that in some parts of the world they have more sophisticated transportation systems or free national health care.

But we also know this is the country people still come to from around the world and risk increasingly tough sanctions for doing so.

We know that given an option there are few of us who would choose to be anywhere else and even fewer who would leave Florida despite a long list of critters you don't want to run across in your backyard.

Tampa, unlike many large metropolitan areas in Florida, is still a city of neighborhoods. It is still a small/big town where you can catch the mayor at a food truck or a mac and cheese throwdown and shoot the breeze with the guy.

It's a place where we have organizations manned largely by volunteers to deal with any number of needs.

You can go anywhere else in the country and you won't find anything as extensive as Metropolitan Ministries, or a medical facility with as many services for those caught in the financial cracks as the Judeo Christian Health Clinic. Other cities look in wonder at Mary Lee's House with its comprehensive programs in juvenile justice, or Alpha House, which sets the bar for dealing with pregnant women who are alone and desperate to succeed in our community.

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Most of us have so much.

I think the greatest gift that so many of us living here have been given is the opportunity to make a difference, even if it's as simple as a few minutes of your time or a little compassion for those who silently suffer.

Today is a good time to take a few minutes of reflection while you're sitting there in that chair wondering why there isn't a football game on the tube.

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