Friday, November 19, 2021

Thanksgiving Thoughts


DUKES FANS:       


      (Those of you who have read these missives for several years know that I love Thanksgiving and the idea of gratitude. So I have looked back over several previous musings on that day and combined and updated some to look at where I am this year with this holiday.)  

      Most human cultures and religions have rituals and days dedicated to some type of “thanksgiving”-- some deep acknowledgement that there are things other than and/or beyond us that affect us and for which we need to be grateful. Prayers of gratitude are a long-standing religious tradition, and our calendars reflect our dependence on things that are beyond us. Human calendars originated with trying to keep track of when the earth around us did certain things, and we knew we had to appeal to and be thankful to the spirits, God or gods that lay behind those processes. They anchor us in our world. So we pray, sacrifice, chant, and more to get that supernatural help. And we give thanks for whatever help or possibility of help we receive. Spring is the time of nature’s rebirth and planting, for example, and we have many celebrations that honor that. Fall is generally our harvest time, and we have holidays including the Hindu Duwali, the Jewish Sukkoth, that recognize that as well. Our American Thanksgiving clearly reflects a Christian perspective as many of the people we have been taught to think of as having the "First Thanksgiving” in Plymouth, MA, were Christian. And it was proclaimed a national holiday by a Christian President and Congress.  

      Even for those of us who do not believe in Christianity or a world of gods and spirits, this idea of giving thanks has existed for many, many years.  What used to be called, “Common Courtesy” was a secular way of paying attention to this very thing. You said "Please” and especially “Thank you” in ordinary human interactions if you were a polite person. It was about the inter-connectedness and gratitude that hold human societies together -- that joint acknowledgement that we affect others and others affect us. We as humans cannot live totally by ourselves, and we need to acknowledge that. 

      Of course, for most folks getting together for Thanksgiving means family, and that can bring conflicts and pressures of its own. There are legendary family battles that have emerged at Thanksgiving dinners. At a time when so much of what we have taken for granted and assumed has been so turned around, polarized, and challenging, there are probably thousands of people right now who are struggling with what to do about this Thanksgiving. Do I invite only vaccinated people? Are topics such as religion, abortion, politics, etc. off limits?  And what to do if someone does not honor those boundaries? Radio, TV, and news media have all featured suggestions on how to deal with sensitive topics at this year’s dinner, and there will undoubtedly be plenty of arguments, tough and uncomfortable decisions, and some hurt feelings. There are also a lot of folks who have died in these last two years, some due to the pandemic and more. There will be many dinner tables with empty chairs, and there will be plenty of sorrow in many homes. For many of us this may well be a Thanksgiving of uncomfortableness unlike any other in recent memory.  

      One of the things I am very grateful for is the caring and comfort that human family and friends can provide for each other. My hope is that through and despite the great hurts, anger, and pain this year may bring, that there can be some of the comfort, understanding, and solace that only friends and family can provide. Most of us are together with family and friends, and that can be wonderful in and of itself. Pain and loss are hard to bear by oneself; they can seemingly crush us. 

      Together we can handle the roughest things. There is often a tenor to this day that, despite the fuss and craziness over where people are seated, and who carves and who can or can't eat what, and who is in what political party, can make most of us slow down a bit. To stop. For to give thanks, to REALLY give thanks, one has to slow down and turn both inward and outward.  We need to be conscious of it. It is and has been in all human cultures. It seems to be something we as humans must do and are capable of doing. 

      Clearly the past two years have brought to the forefront many things of which many of us were not aware. The roles of essential workers, without whom our whole civilization would have come close to falling apart -- grocery store clerks, postal workers, delivery drivers, nurses, doctors, first responders, fruit pickers, and many, many more. The technologies that allowed us to adjust to so many of our new challenges -- ZOOM, Skype, cell phones, etc. The ways neighbors helped other neighbors with trips to the grocery stores, staffing food pantries, donating food, providing rides to the doctor, etc. It seems very good and right, especially now, that we take the time to note OUT LOUD these things for which we are grateful, even if they often slip our consciousness. “Common Courtesy” can seem to be beneath our notice these days, but it doesn’t have to be. It is there and has been there, and we all have things for which we can be grateful. I am glad we have a day to formally recognize, announce and be aware of our gratitude. It calls forth our better selves. Do have a Happy and Thoughtful Day of Thanks.

 (For some advice about conversations during Thanksgiving: 

What really happened in Plymouth in 1621? 

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