Thursday, November 23, 2017
Giving Thanks, No Matter What
It may seem like today is a day all Americans are occupied with preparations for the traditional turkey dinner of our national heritage—flanked, of course, with the cultural mandates of football and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Yet the day has a softer side that often gets hidden in the rush to attend to all the details of the big event: the opportunity to pause and reflect on our blessings.
Being thankful for what we've been given can be a touchy subject. Just this past week, my daughter had been reflecting on how odd it seems that, among those of her friends who come from families relatively well off, it is not unusual to hear the complaint slip from the lips of these favored sons and daughters about how they are so "poor"—when that is hardly the case. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I've heard the observation from some people who grew up in a truly deprived setting that they thought life was like that for everyone; to them, poverty seemed to be the norm.
Perhaps it is hard for us to see our true condition—a merciful handicap, to be sure, for those less fortunate, but a mockery when it becomes the complaint of the favored. And yet, no matter what our condition at the moment, if we take the time to consider it, we can think of something from which we've benefited at the hand of others.
Being able to see—or at least sense—our blessings in the midst of hardship can bring a feeling of peace, a thought that "it's going to be alright" to those in the midst of struggles.
Whether your family's story shared a lot in common with the pilgrim narrative we celebrate today, or whether your ancestors' arrival on these shores came long after that 1620s event—or long before it—the members of your family do share a detail of that history in common with America's Thanksgiving narrative.
You, for instance, likely had ancestors who faced hardships in their homeland and made the painful decision to leave all that was familiar to them. You came from a hardy stock of people who endured trials and deprivation to make a long and risky journey. Those people had to spend a long stretch of time facing strangers on a daily basis—neighbors and bosses and others who spoke a strange language and whose lifestyle and customs were so different from those back at home. It's likely that, if there weren't compassionate people in this strange new land to lend a helping hand at the right time, things would have turned out much worse for your family.
Whether talking about the Pilgrims or subsequent immigrants, that journey narrative has become part of the national story. If you descend from ancestors who came to this continent we now call North America, you realize we all echo that narrative in our own family history. It doesn't take long to realize that story line includes not only hardships but blessings.
There is something about the ability to see blessings—especially in the midst of hardships—that can lift a person up from the negativity of those surroundings. Seeing blessings can actually become a way of life. Being able to do so bestows a strength and resilience, but in some way it also provides a sense of peace.
Whether you are in the midst of a day full of the activities of preparing a sumptuous feast or far from the America you call home, my wish for you is that you find a momentary haven to rest and contemplate how you've been blessed. That momentary recharging can be just the boost you need if your life is still in the midst of replaying your own American drama.
Above: "The Peale Family," portrait by American artist Charles Willson Peale, circa 1772; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain. Though time and customs have changed, the family "portrait" during holiday gatherings appears to be still much the same.