HAMBURG — “For each new morning with its light, for rest and shelter of the night, for health and food, for love and friends, for everything thy goodness sends.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Approximately 392 years ago, our ancestors gathered with perfect strangers to feast on cracked corn, wild turkey and venison. They thanked God for not only allowing them safety in coming to America, but providing those who were still alive with food, shelter and companionship.
Today, children demand to be given the perfect toy for Christmas. Even bigger children salivate at the thought of playing the new Call of Duty® or Grand Theft Auto™ game, and well-fed Americans everywhere turn up their noses at the dinner table, forgetting the millions of people all over the world who would walk across hot coals to eat those unwanted green beans.
We have become very cynical and unthankful. What began as a way to come together to say thanks for everything, big and small, turned into another commercialized Hallmark holiday. Today’s Thanksgivings are heart attack-inducing, gluttonous affairs. People stuff themselves fuller than the crispy turkeys weighing down their tables.
Then, from the table to the couch. The TV – if it was ever turned off – is switched on and football games and parades march through the rest of the day, until it’s time to make fat sandwiches out of the leftovers and stuff ourselves all over again.
What happened to taking time to say thank you? To be grateful for everything we have?
When I was 7, my mother made me a Pilgrim outfit and I joined my friends and siblings in a carefully orchestrated – but probably not very historically correct – depiction of the first Thanksgiving. After we took our bows, everyone, grown-ups and kids alike, took turns saying what we were thankful for, before we dug into the mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie.
I squirmed in my seat, praying that the adults would stop listing eight or nine things and hurry the process along so my tummy could stop grumbling, but today I look back on those days with fond memories.
I am as guilty as anyone of forgetting about the true reason for Thanksgiving.
President Abraham Lincoln set the precedent for the Thanksgiving holiday. Despite being in the throes of a civil war, he still found a host of things for which to be thankful. Things that we take for granted, today: safety, food, ships that haven’t sunk and mines that haven’t caved in.
“They are the gracious gifts of the most high God who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy,” Lincoln said. “They should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people.”
How many Thanksgivings today can be described as solemn, reverent and grateful?
I have a lot of wants. I get angry when things don’t go my way, and I forget to say thank you, a lot. But I want to let this year’s observation of Thanksgiving make me stop and take a look around me; to really count my blessings, as the old song says, and be thankful for what I have.
I have a warm house, an admittedly adorable husband, a family that loves me, a full-time job, a car that runs, health insurance and a bank account. I have plenty to eat, and enough clothing to fill three dressers. What do I have to complain about?
And yet, I always think I “need” more. It’s time to look around and see that maybe we’re a little more blessed than we thought.
I have friends whose blessings lists look a little bit different than mine. They are thankful that their cancer hasn’t spread, or that their at-risk pregnancies have finally hit 26 weeks. They are thankful for the years they were able to spend with their late parents, or happy that their grandparents still recognize them, on the good days.
“Remember: There is always someone worse off than you.” It is true and yet, how often we forget. Many of us tend to twist that quote to say, “There is always someone who has it better than I do.”
I watch the Thanksgiving parade. I tolerate the football game’s playing on my TV and I enjoy a juicy turkey as much as the next person. But I want to take the opportunity to remind myself about the true meaning of Thanksgiving and “count my blessings: name them, one by one.”