In the United States, the fourth Thursday of November is designated as Thanksgiving Day. Its purpose originated in October 1621 when the Wampanoag Native Americans joined with Pilgrim settlers to celebrate the harvest time. Here is a link if you want more details.
In honor of the day and the season, the Photo of the Week is a typical scene from Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley, where my wife and I have lived since May 2017. We will be having the traditional meal of turkey and all the trimmings, including the grandkids’ favorite dessert, Nana’s delicious apple pie.
Wherever you may live, from our family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!
A straggly driftwood tree on a lonely beach might seem like a strange symbol with which to say “Happy Thanksgiving.” From my perspective, it’s just right. The stalwart tree, battered by wind and sea, still stands. To me, it serves as a reminder of all those in the world today who have so little, who daily strive to just find food, water, and shelter. Likely, we don’t have to really look too far to find folks who lack at least one of those most precious life necessities.
It struck me that the tree dramatically overshadows the person walking the beach looking for seashells and sharks teeth. Of course, this is due to distance. That perspective, however, serves to highlight just how small we are in relationship to all of the world’s human problems.
My point on this Thanksgiving Day in the United States is for all of us to be extra thankful for all that we have. It’s too easy to take for granted the gathering of friends and family around a bountiful table of your favorite Thanksgiving offerings. As we partake in the meal, let us remember in prayer and in decisive action those who have so little.
The five of us men sat around the breakfast table enjoying the tasty food and each other’s company. As much as I cherished knowing these friends, and the nutritious breakfast, it was the conversation that captured my attention.
Half way through the hour-long gathering, I realized I was smiling, grateful to be included in this forthright discussion about what really matters in life. The hard, direct questions about life and death enthralled me. The frank, honest, heartfelt answers fueled the no-frills banter.
This was a Thursday morning, the usual bi-weekly get-together of our cancer support group, affectionately known as the Bluemen. Blue is the color for prostate cancer, and that was a common denominator of the group, save for one member.
Our host, normally a reserved, contemplative man, was passionately engaged in the meaningful discussion. By early Monday morning, he had died.
When I learned of his death, I wasn’t shocked. Deeply saddened yes, but not surprised given that intense interaction I had witnessed regarding life and preparing to die.
That precious morning, I sat and listened mostly, participating only when absolutely necessary. I was too absorbed to interrupt the flow of the dialogue’s stream.
Our friend, Bill, had joined our cancer support group for just that kind of interaction. This diminutive but gentile giant of a man wanted our companionship in his journey with prostate cancer. We gladly welcomed him.
Bill immediately felt at home with us. One of the most humble individuals I had ever met, Bill easily joined in the group’s chitchat. He, like the rest of us, shared intimate details that only those with prostate cancer unashamedly reveal, even over breakfast.
At times, this quiet, simple man talked our ears off. Once he even tried to introduce politics, a violation of our unwritten protocol. We all laughed.
Though not a prostate cancer victim, Kurt joined our group because there are no living members to offer comfort for his kind of cancer. Just like Bill, Kurt held nothing back either.
Our table talk revolved around what it’s like to die, are we afraid to die, what will we miss, what will we look forward to in the afterlife? And so it went, at first monthly, then every other week when Bill had a set back a few months ago.
Bill wanted to continue to meet, so this affable man and his amazing wife invited us into their home. We ate, talked, and laughed some more. Sometimes we even shed a few tears.
Besides cancer, the group members were bound as one by two other mutual traits. Our common faith, and our gratitude for the life opportunities we had had, and would have made us brothers.
We had no idea of what was about to play out with Bill following that marvelous Thursday morning gathering. I was glad for the multitude of thanks expressed then for all that had come our way in life. The good far outweighed the bad, even including cancer.
Each in our close-knit group was appreciative of life, to live, to love, to be loved. That was enough, more than any of us could ever have desired.
The turkey and all the trimmings of Thanksgiving are nice. Our group’s regular sharing affirmed that being grateful means so much more than a holiday spread. The Bluemen were most thankful for the immeasurable joy, love and fellowship of devoted families and friends.
It was only appropriate that for a full week after the first snow of the year that we experienced a perfect Indian summer here in Ohio.
The extended summer-like days, which seemed to actually improve chronologically until the rains came, served as a picturesque bridge between a superb fall and an inexplicit winter yet to come.
We can only wonder what winter will be like. Will it be as harsh and record breaking as the last? We hope not. Clearly we have no say in the matter.
Every fall the National Weather Service issues a long-term guesstimation of what winter will bring. But even the scientists hedge their prognostications on percentages, casino like.
In the end, we have no choice but to take what we get. Hushed by the holiday clamor, a certain question lingers unspoken. Will we appreciate what we receive? In truth, that question can and should be applied far beyond the realm of weather.
I remember well the winter of 2004-2005 when the infamous ice storm nailed our area. The accumulating ice snapped giant trees, brought down power lines, halted commerce, interrupted communications, and thinned traffic to emergency purposes only for days.
Those of us who were on the electrical grid were hit hard. Fortunately, an Amish friend saved my family and me with the use of a generator to at least keep the gas hot water heat on. Without the generator’s assistance, the pipes in our home would have frozen and burst, causing extensive damage. Thankfully that did not happen, due to the unconditional generosity of my friend.
All the while, with our communication to the outside world cut, thousands upon thousands of people were caught in the wake of a horrific earthquake and subsequent tidal waves that killed scores of people.
In sorting through an overflowing basket of mishmash the other day, I came upon some handwritten notes I had made about the catastrophe. Apparently, I did so while listening to a battery-operated radio. In reviewing my scribbling, I was reminded that the inconvenience of living without electricity for five days paled in comparison to the plight of millions of fellow human beings halfway around the world.
A sampling of my jottings, dated Dec. 26, 2004, relived the calamity: Banda Ache, 60-foot wave, two miles inland, 30 mph, eight-12 feet deep flood; deaths, 200,000 in Indonesia alone, 400,000 injured; no system to alert people in Indian Ocean rim; 9.3 magnitude earthquake, the world’s deadliest tsunami. Unfortunately, those initial notations proved accurate.
Once power was restored the horrible scenes unfolded on television. I was appalled for the victims, thankful for my family that we had only lost power and a few trees in the yard. Compared to the widespread wreckage and unbelievable totals of death and injuries of so many innocents, we had been fortunate.
Since then, infinite natural and man-made disasters, including the sluggish global economy, have occurred. Others will likely continue to develop as time progresses. Nevertheless, as we begin this holiday season in North America, we still have so much for which we can be thankful no matter our personal situation.
This Thanksgiving perhaps we can express our gratitude by simply helping the less fortunate. We may not have to look clear to the Indian Ocean rim for those opportunities either.
Maybe, just maybe, a proactive generosity can be an Indian summer bridge to brighten someone else’s rainy day life. That would be a practical, productive and prudent Thanksgiving.