I like the idea of a holiday based on giving thanks and gratitude. There is something so healing and loving about it, a holiday where we don’t focus on ourselves and moan about how old we’re getting, or get presents, but a holiday where we reach out to others, to include them. We all have that Norman Rockwell vision of Thanksgiving, with a golden turkey on the table, and smiling family gathered around the table, and we also know that holidays don’t always work out that way, and can be fraught with stress, strife or disappointment or bitterly lonely for some. (Even the turkey can be challenging. One year, we dropped the turkey off the platter and it slid across the floor, to everyone’s horror. We took it out to the kitchen, dusted it off, reappeared trying to look ‘normal’ about it, and it was delicious anyway. Another year, my cleaning person at the time decided that the turkey was in the way in the refrigerator and put it in the freezer without telling me, and when I went downstairs at six in the morning to start cooking it, it was frozen solid, like a boulder, and I had to run around buying enough chickens to feed my family. We skipped the turkey that year. So from a culinary standpoint, we’ve had our comic moments around Thanksgiving).
Nothing heals the heart like gratitude, although some years it is hard to be grateful. And in some ways, this has been a hard year. Holidays always accentuate one’s losses, and the absence of my late son Nick for many years now, and the loss of my late ex-husband and children’s father who died a year and a half ago, will be felt more acutely on the holiday. And a dear friend who joined us every year for Thanksgiving and added to the merriment also passed away a year ago, and we will miss her too. But I think the secret of a good Thanksgiving is about who you reach out to, and who you try to include, even if they are not your closest friends. If they have nowhere to be on Thanksgiving, no family nearby or none at all, the whole spirit of Thanksgiving is to include them, and to share the blessings on the table and in your heart. And as I said, sometimes it’s challenging. Some years are harder than others. This year, we will still be reverberating from the impact of Hurricane Sandy, and the shock and sadness of one of my daughters losing her home and everything in it that she loved. But we can give thanks that she is alive, and I am deeply grateful for that!!! There have been happy events this year too, another daughter got married in August. And three of my children will be with their in laws, so we will miss them. But if we try hard, we can find things to be grateful for.
A saying I have always loved, from the Bible, is “God places the solitary in families”. At a time in my life when I was totally alone and desperately lonely, I found that to be true, and would be invited by kind friends at Thanksgiving, and then I wound up with a big family of my own. Thanksgiving is a time when it warms my heart to see my children include friends and invite people who have nowhere to go. We become a family, a community of people, connected by gratitude, as we give thanks. And I know that can be challenging. How do you give thanks when you feel you have lost so much? When everything is going wrong? When your heart is aching, you’ve lost a child or a spouse, or your marriage or relationship is on the rocks? Give thanks for what? There is always something to give thanks for, and be grateful for, however small. I remember once, when my life was at an all-time low, I was so down about all of it, that I couldn’t think of anything to be grateful for, and lowered my eyes, feeling acutely sorry for myself——and then noticed the shoes I was wearing that I actually liked, and whispered to myself “thank you for the nice shoes”. If we can find one thing to be grateful for, it will grow. It’s an exercise I force myself to do at times when I am down in the dumps about my life. I force myself to think of 5 things I am grateful for—–and some days it’s a stretch, although I have 8 great kids I am grateful for, but that’s cheating—I try to think of 5 other things, even if it’s only a warm home and a comfortable bed.
I hope that you will be at a Thanksgiving table this year, with people you love, or the family that you get along with (and that’s not always a sure thing either!! Families sometimes behave badly at holidays, or you are forced to see people you try to avoid the rest of the year). But I hope that this Thanksgiving will be a real one for you, and if it’s not perfect, maybe you will be a blessing to someone else. It is a magic circle that comes around, gratitude softens our hearts and brings us closer together. Reaching out to someone else becomes a chain of life that affects us all. I hope your turkey is delicious—-even if it turns out to be pizza with 3 good friends. What matters is not what’s on our table, but in our hearts. Turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie are delicious, but better a small meal and a big heart. May your heart be full of thanks on Thanksgiving, your life filled with blessings, and your table with good friends, or people to whom you are a blessing. And may you be able to find 5 things you are grateful for with ease. (And try not to drop the turkey on the floor—-and if you do, no worries. Just go out to the kitchen, pretend you’re Julia Child, dust it off, and bring it back to the table with a smile. No one will ever know). May your Thanksgiving be abundant with blessings this year, and always.