Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Thanksgiving is the holiday where we are all supposed to be thankful. The first settlers, it is said, arranged the feast to celebrate a bountiful harvest and to demonstrate their thanks for their survival in the New World. They served all manner of fowl in this feast, even though there is some controversy over whether or not this feast included wild turkey. A London historian has written a book saying that turkey was not a part of this first Thanksgiving meal. He also says that it was held at a time far later than the date our historians have given it. However, whatever food was served at this meal and whenever it was served, the Pilgrims were being properly thankful.

Actually, I was born thankful, I believe. I have been thankful all of my life. If fame, wealth and a great reputation falls upon me in the future, I will continue to be thankful. It's the easiest thing in the world, unless you are shivering in a cardboard carton, begging for food, and down to your last penny. Then, being thankful might not be so easy.

The thing about gorging the stomach with food and sitting around in easy chairs afterward being thankful is the sad fact that not everyone has something to be thankful about. It's hard to be thankful if one's life is filled with disaster. There is a family member I respect and love who has had almost every calamity fate can toss at her turn her life into chaos. She and her husband, both in their seventies, have the sole care of a young man who suffers a terrible orphan disease, a genetic condition that has rendered him almost completely helpless, only able to move his head.

He lives in his bed, unless he is propped into a wheelchair. His feet are shriveled and useless, his legs bent like pretzels. He is in constant pain and sometimes screams throughout the day and night. To make matters worse, both of these elderly caregivers have health problems. The one has had several heart attacks, the other ten hernia operations from the strain of lifting this invalid son.

Their daughter also suffers from a rare lung condition and must always carry around a tank of oxygen. She visits often, but is unable to help with the care of her brother. Then, too, there are the two grandchildren these people have raised. Despite the time it took to care for their ailing son, they have found the time to rear two other children.

Faced with a situation like this, one wonders what would be left to be thankful about. Sometimes, this grandmother is hit with a deep and encompassing despair. She said to me, "Why? Why do we have all of these problems? Is it because I am a bad person? Why has this happened to me?"

Why indeed? I could not answer her question, except to say that she definitely is not a bad person, but is almost saintly, in my eyes. Despite the work and worry that is her daily life, she manages to smile and enjoy the small pleasures allowed her. She never becomes angry or upset, but tenderly cares for her son, while offering support and comfort to her daughter.

Perhaps she still has much to be thankful for , her family, fresh air, the world of nature, and just being alive. Perhaps, in the long run, that is all we all really have. The rest of it is just window dressing, just a turkey feather blowing in the wind.

So, while you are enjoying your dinner, as I will mine, take a moment and pray for the people out there who are sick, who are cold, who are hungry. It's one thing to be thankful. It's another to forget those with problems that may be greater than our own.

Only God could answer the questions asked by this grandmother, and one cannot help but wonder why multiple problems sometimes pile up like rocks in a railroad underpass, singling out certain individuals to carry more than their share of the load. But, on this day of giving thanks for the blessings of life, perhaps we should give more thought to the problems. While we are stuffing ourselves with bounty, there are children dying of hunger in Sudan, there are terrorized people fleeing their homes in Iraq, there are homeless people filling our Shelters. There are people like those I described faced with long, debilitating illnesses.

Be thankful, yes! But be aware that thankfulness should be accompanied by compassion. We are all in this world together. We are all brothers and sisters. Every hollow-eyed baby that dies of hunger is your child and mine. If we can wipe out hunger, help our sick neighbor, give a hand to that person in need, only then can we be truly thankful.