Like many people, I love Thanksgiving best of all the holidays. I actually love cooking Thanksgiving dinner, preparing all those wonderful dishes and offering family and friends the bounty of our table. Thanksgiving is a time to gather and be grateful for so many things – for new snow covering the leaf-strewn streets, for the sun sparkling and making the day magical, for the blessings of heat and hot water on this chilly cold morning. For friends who feed us beautiful soup on a cold Sunday evening and greet us with hugs. For singing at church and the joy of being with others to worship and celebrate. For the small things – a cup of hot tea, the smile from a stranger in the bustling grocery store, a moment of laughter with a four-year-old.
Some years ago, the last year he was alive, my step-father summoned all of my siblings for Thanksgiving at my house. He had suffered a stroke six or seven years earlier and it left him with aphasia, a difficulty forming words, although his body functioned and he could communicate through a kind of Twenty Questions mode. When I was younger, he and I had battled it out. He was a strict high school vice principal and I was the rebellious daughter, the anti-war demonstrator, the counter-cultural dropout. Once I’d moved away from home, we rarely talked. If he answered the phone when I called, he’d say hi and then hand it off to my mother. After my mother died, we were cordial but remote until his stroke, when he moved to an assisted living places nearby and I became his “primary care-giver.” It wasn’t onerous, really, just taking him to his many doctors’ appointments and checking up on his medications, keeping him company now and again. But over the years, as I spent more time with him and he grew more frail, I grew to appreciate him and to understand that he was who he was. He was an important part of my life and he cared for me in the best way he knew how. At that Thanksgiving dinner with my all my siblings, we went around the table and said what we were grateful for. When my dad’s turn came, he pointed to me and said, “Her.” It was all he could say, but it was enough for me.
And so, it’s not about the turkey. It’s about gratitude, and the pain that sometimes goes with it, and the sadness and the hurt and the loss that go along with joy. It’s about knowing that there are others who don’t have enough and understanding that we share their suffering because we are all part of this human family. It’s about knowing that we are blessed with love and sharing and holding one another close in our hearts. May it be so.