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Archive for November, 2012

Thanksgiving

Anyone care to guess what my favorite holiday was when I was a child? If you didn’t immediately think of Christmas, I would have to wonder about you. In later years, however, Thanksgiving is beginning to take its place, if only because of its simplicity. There are no presents to buy or wrap. You don’t have to keep up with the Joneses in terms of gifts, decorations, or anything else. For most of us, Thanksgiving revolves around eating too much, with perhaps less guilt than we would normally feel for doing so and, of course, sharing it with family. This year we will be gathering with some of our  family, while others will have their own celebrations.

We pursue happiness, but I’m not certain we really understand what happiness is. It has become a cliché to look at celebrities who have everything that is important in our culture, but whose lives spiral out of control, leaving broken families and heartache. But if it is a cliché, it’s only because it truly reflects the emptiness of that kind of pursuit of happiness.

Some of you may be having difficulty finding anything for which to be thankful this year. Perhaps you’re struggling with issues that seem ready to overwhelm you. It may be that you do not have family to celebrate with you, and the holiday itself actually emphasizes the emptiness you feel.

I can identify with both of those feelings. This time last year my wife had just finished chemo, but we knew that surgery and radiation were going to follow quickly. And we did not yet know how effective those treatments would be. We can face Thanksgiving this year with more confidence and more joy. Actually, the previous year’s experiences have made us appreciate even more the blessings we have.

I am also reminded of the time when I celebrated Thanksgiving without any family to share it with. It was in 1969, and I was in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. By that time I had been in Vietnam eight months, eight months that seemed like an eternity. I had just turned 24 a couple of weeks earlier. The comfortable world I thought I remembered had come to seem unreal. It was as if Vietnam was reality, and home was a dream. But on Thanksgiving Day, for a short time I was able to pause and allow myself to remember that “the World,” as we called it, was still out there. The military provided us with a traditional Thanksgiving meal. There was even a printed program which I have saved for 43 years. You can see what a feast was provided.

1969 Thanksgiving Menu, Vietnam

Along with the menu was a prayer by the battalion chaplain which you can read below.

Chaplain’s prayer, Thanksgiving, Vietnam 1969

I mention these events, because I don’t wish to appear naïve. I recognize that loneliness and hardship are very real. But money and fame can never by themselves bring the happiness we all seek. Indeed, I have come to believe that thankfulness is one of the keys to happiness, and finding something for which to be thankful has the capacity to touch and perhaps even heal our hearts.

In the 1960s a writer named Kahlil Gibran became popular in that mystical “Age of Aquarius.” In his book, The Prophet, is one sentence that has always spoken to me.

“And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy; And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.”

I hope your Thanksgiving contains all the bounty, both physical and emotional, of a Norman Rockwell painting. If it does, consider yourself blessed. If you find yourself in a season of pain or discouragement, I encourage you to search carefully for something for which to be thankful. Perhaps even reach out and touch someone else who is also finding difficulty celebrating. Either condition has the potential to bless us, if we allow it to.

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