For most of us in the United States of America this is a wonderful time of year. We pause from our routines for a time to gather with family and friends to express our thanks. Loved ones travel from near and far to be together. We feast on traditional recipes and let our diets lapse for a bit. All across our nation there will be hugs exchanged, stories told, sounds of laughter filling the air. We will stop just long enough from our labors to remember what is truly important in our lives and to show our gratitude for the blessings that we enjoy.
But wait! While the vast majority of us paint such lovely pictures for ourselves and our families there are always those whose Thanksgiving is not quite so rosy. The hospitals will still be full as we celebrate. The waiting rooms in the ICUs will be as packed with worried souls as they ever are. The doctors and nurses will be working as usual, winning the battle for some lives and losing others. For those pacing the hospital halls and fretting over someone that they love there will be little time for feasting and watching football. Some will have to say their final goodbyes. Sickness and death will happen just as it does every day of the year. There is no moratorium even on special holidays.
There will be firefighters and police officers working the Thanksgiving Day shift. They will carry out their duties just as they always do, keeping us safe even as we forget that they are still on the job. With the grace of God the calls for action that they receive will be uneventful. Hopefully none of them will be hurt. They will still be sorely missed by families who have grown accustomed to their absence even on occasions when it feels as though the whole world is engaged in lighthearted pleasure.
Some of us will decide to go to a theater on Thanksgiving Day to watch a movie. Maybe we will rush to the grocery store to make our last minute purchases. We may even be tempted to get an early start on our Christmas shopping by going to one of the retail establishments that decided not to close in honor of the day. We may tend to take the people who serve us for granted, not thinking much about the fact that they are laboring while we are having fun.
There are those among us who are lonely, afflicted with chronic pain, poor, homeless. For them the daily grind of living will be no different on Thanksgiving Day than it is at any other time of the year. If they are very lucky they may find a place of comfort where they will get a hot meal and a brief moment to feel normal but mostly they will know that the pleasure is only momentary. Soon they will be back to dealing with the realities of their wounded lives.
There are so many reasons why Thanksgiving Day will not be quite as bright and pretty as the picture that exists in my mind. Anger, jealousies, mental illnesses, addictions, worries will erupt into chaos and dampen the spirit of the day. While we are all enjoying our many blessings there will be places where happiness lies dormant in dark corners. The sad but true fact is that there is much pain and sorrow in our midst that we mostly never see.
I don’t wish to dwell on the underside of the world around me. My niece, the doctor, and my brother, the firefighter, understood long ago when they embarked on their careers that they might often be called to duty on the very days when the rest of us pause for joyful reunions with our families. Our family has experienced difficult years when someone that we intensely loved was very sick or dying. One of my nephews has volunteered from time to time to leave our gathering so that he might make an extra bit of cash by working at one of the holiday sales. We have had our share of pain along with joy. Luckily the trend line that runs through the scatterplot of our Thanksgiving Day celebrations has generally been positive. The outliers are exceptional.
Most of us have so much for which we should be thankful. My own blessings have sometimes been marred by horrible experiences but in the main my life is good, my experiences filled with much love. It is the nature of life to go up and down at times but mostly there is a moderate rhythm that hums along from year to year. Sadly we all know of people and places that are not quite so fortunate. When we praise God for the glories that He has given the vast majority of us we also need to remember those who for whatever reason may not be doing so well. They require our prayers and our support. God bless those who show their true gratitude by taking the time to help them.
My daughter told me of a wonderful family that has a unique Thanksgiving Day tradition. They travel to Mexico every year in late November with a group of missionaries to build and repair homes and bring clean water and supplies to people who live in a world without even the smallest conveniences. I know of former students who serve food to the the poor and homeless before they enjoy their own feasts at home. My brother tells me that citizens often drop by the fire station to bring treats for the firefighters. Some folks who choose to go out to eat leave larger than average tips at restaurants. There will be those who will make phone calls to shut ins or visit someone who is spending the holiday in a nursing home or hospital. My father-in-law keeps a pile of dollar bills within easy reach as he drives along Houston streets. When he sees someone asking for help at an intersection he is ready to give them a donation without questioning why they may need it.
So here’s to everyone having as wonderful a holiday as possible. My hope is that you experience unadulterated happiness and that you know that you are loved. Take just a moment of your time to reach out to someone who is not as fortunate or to ask for help if you are in need. Our joy and our thanks become more complete whenever we are able to share.
The Pilgrim’s who came to the new world on a tiny ship experienced suffering beyond imagination. When they joined in a day of thanks with the their neighbors who were native to this land they had lost over half of the people who had started the journey with them. They had nearly frozen to death and starved. It seemed miraculous to them that anyone had survived. Perhaps the horrors that they had experienced made the celebration even more significant for them. Their living conditions were still uncertain and often bleak but they thanked their God for what little they had. They were still here and that was enough to evoke their gratitude. In their spirit may we all be thankful whether our harvests of life have been great or small and may we share in our bounty just as the Pilgrims and the Native Americans did so long ago.