What is Thanksgiving? Yes, at this 400th anniversary of the Mayflower, we remember the courage, trust, and generosity that unites strangers, Pilgrims and Wampanoag breaking bread.
We recall that in 1789, Washington named a holiday for “public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.”
These facts are important. Thanking God and recalling history’s power to teach, honor and motivate, inspires humility, compass, moral perspective, and what is best in us.
But there is more to Thanksgiving – and we know it. Here, families gather to draw strength from each other, appreciate each other and their blessings – stopping for one untroubled day.
So, what is Thanksgiving? Even as we honor the “good” in our past, power of trust, peace, and prayer, and merciful Hand of Providence, the day is more. It is personal, a time for reflection.
Thanksgiving is a chance to remember that none of us got where are, without the love, sacrifice, strength, bonds of faith and family – that lifted us at birth, put wind beneath our unsteady wings, warm words and selfless deeds. None of us gets along in life without the love of others.
What else? It is a rare chance to recall, by name, those who give and gave, those present and those no longer with us – to whom we all owe unpayable debts. It the chance to recall God’s mystery and mercy, how a child becomes an adult by the grace and patience of caring parents and grandparents; how sickness and injury are healed, how family can appear when needed.
In living color, it is recalling a father who carried you on his shoulders, and whom you may one day have to carry. It is the mother who carried you nine months and well beyond, who worried, doted, and was devoted – in being so, she let you go, so you could in turn learn.
It is saying thank you for recovery from disease, healing of bone and heart, the settling of debts and fears, quieting of anxieties and tears, making new friends, and a chance to quietly give, which in the end is the greatest gift, often arriving quite unexpectedly.
It is pausing to ponder the imponderables, the ones that really matter – how you got through an awful time, how you avoided disaster, how someone from whom you expected nothing gave you everything, how you ended up where you did when needed, how curiously magnificent life is, from sunrise to sunset, orchestra to duet, common kindness to redemption, relief and new hope.
Thanksgiving is knowing wars and pandemics end, friends forgive, second chances appear sometimes without the ask, warmth lies behind the mask. We have learned to recognize warm eyes, slightly twinkling, at the corners crinkling, a sign of a human smile unseen.
So, not to belabor the point, Thanksgiving is a unique holiday, historic and rooted in courage, faith, and hope – but much more than that. It is the chance to give a bit of yourself, to reach out and thank people in person and prayer, by card or call, congregating or meditating, verbal ardor or listening harder. It is about gratitude, recognizing and showing it.
The Pilgrims, who managed to put democracy in motion with that Social Compact, Washington who dared give The Almighty credit for America’s “many and signal favors,” and all of those who have lived between their times and ours, understood being grateful is a key that unlocks many doors, inside us and beyond us. Thanksgiving matters – nationally and personally. To borrow a phrase, with its power – we all may flower. Happy Thanksgiving!