It’s possible that I’ve written at least 25 Thanksgiving columns since 1988, so there’s no doubt I have repeatedly shared the same thoughts over and over. But, until last year, we were not in the midst of a worldwide pandemic that prevented many of us from celebrating the holiday in traditional ways.
Gratitude may have been in short supply. The year before and the year since have been filled with turmoil and tragedy, fires and floods, earthquakes, erupting volcanoes, hurricanes and tornadoes, all adding anxiety and hardship to mankind all over a planet already under siege from political unrest and dissension even among religious organizations. In such a world, opportunities are in abundance for those who are able to offer help, to share and bear “one another’s burdens,” to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the unclad. These actions reflect attitudes of gratitude. A recurring theme in some old Thanksgiving columns has been the response we make as individuals to our own blessings, especially as it comes to creature comforts. If we are truly thankful for “our daily bread,” we will share it with the hungry. If we appreciate the luxury of a roof over our heads, cool in summer, warm in winter, we will find a way to help those in need as they strive for such a home. So much easier said than done, all the time, not just at this season of giving thanks. Generosity has no season. It is habitual.
They say we can thank the Pilgrims for the beginning of the holiday, and for the traditional meal featuring turkeys. The Pilgrims set the example, gathering to give thanks for survival and sharing hope for the future. Finley Peter Dunne’s quote, on the lighter side, observes that the Puritans gave thanks for being preserved from the Indians, and we keep the day to give thanks that we are preserved from the Puritans! The true story, for another day, is not so lighthearted.
Ten years ago, I wrote about a special Woodstock resident, a sort of Thanksgiving mascot. He resided on the south end of Main Street. As he became more visible and more active, showing up on his own Facebook page, and in newspapers and TV (local and national), he was given various names. Most folks called him Tom Turkey, but most often we saw Bob the Turkey in print. He seemed to prefer the human version of turkeys to his own kin. He ruled the intersection of Main Street and Serenade. Traffic often was at a standstill as he refused to yield to vehicles. He failed to yield one time too many, and eventually became a hit-and-run victim. Later, fans would install a “turkey” statue near the depot to honor his memory. Small town America at its finest. Things have changed. I doubt Bob the Turkey would survive a single hour in today’s traffic impatience.
On a different note, we voice our gratitude to God for His goodness on this day, often reciting the 100th Psalm, “Come before His Presence with thanksgiving.” The prayer is spoken, but we also observe the day by expressing to friends and family, public servants, teachers, church leaders, co-workers and co-worshipers, and even the random stranger who crosses our path, how thankful we are for them.
It serves a purpose to make a list of our blessings, but how do you compile a cornucopia list without sounding conceited? If we aren’t careful when we start listing blessings, it will come out, “Look at me, I’ve got it all!” But it behooves all of us to make such a list by examining our lives, thinking about those special blessings of an abundant life that we all too often take for granted. We might find that, actually, we do have it all. But those blessings can turn into a curse when used unwisely or when unappreciated. We are not promised a life free from trouble, but with every situation there is opportunity for service. And with every deed of service comes yet another blessing.
One of my daily devotion guides is from Billy Graham. He tells us that during that first year when the Pilgrims were settling in Plymouth, seven times as many graves were dug for the dead as homes were built for the living. The first crop failed, and another 35 settlers arrived bringing no provisions. Yet their lives were marked by a spirit of constant thankfulness. Like those Pilgrims, on this Thanksgiving Day may we acknowledge, from the Book of James, that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” And may we be able to discern which gifts are good and perfect that we might act on them with gratitude and service.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving with those you love.