Thoughts to Accompany Your Thanksgiving Feast

Lost between the monstrous frenzy of Halloween and the glittering commercialism of the December holidays is Thanksgiving.

And, I think I’m good with that.

With little more to hype than turkey and leaf-motif linens, Madison Avenue largely ignores Thanksgiving, which leaves the rest of us to enjoy it in the same simple spirit with which it has been celebrated for centuries.

As welcoming as the Statue of Liberty, Thanksgiving invites all to the table, regardless of whether your ancestors arrived on the Mayflower, or you just got here last week. The invitation does come with one request, however—that you join with your fellow diners in gracing the table with gratitude.

For gratitude is something to be ever mindful of in a land where so many of us are so fortunate.

In this blessed place, we enjoy the freedom to speak, to worship, to pursue happiness, and to reach for our dreams amid stunning panoramic vistas.

Yes, this is a blessed place, but the blessings don’t come free.

People on a list of mostly forgotten names that unfurls from ocean to ocean, and across mountains, plains, rivers, and time have paid for them all.

They are the people who give the best of themselves without fanfare or fuss, who push past their own fears to fly into the eye of the unnerving and the calamitous, against a tide of the repulsed and the panicked rushing the other way. And, they do so fully aware that the tragedies and the tragic are harsh evidence of their own vulnerabilities and the fragility of their own lives.

They are the people who find in themselves the courage to look when we look away.

They are the first responders to scenes of accidents and of crimes, to conflagrations and to natural disasters. They create order out of mayhem, with the capacity to restore calm to the trembling and the terrified.

They are the volunteers who work with the victims of human trafficking, with the poor, and with the mentally ill. They willingly tackle grim matters of need that many find uncomfortable to talk about, let alone face head-on.

They are the medical workers, who see the person before the disease, who touch without flinching, who heal when possible, and who, when called for, accompany patients on their ultimate journey to death with kindness and sensitivity.

They are the teachers, who approach special-needs students with understanding and patience, and a belief that all children deserve the chance to be accepted and to achieve beyond their potential.

They are the volunteers at shelters and on streets, who see not dirty fingernails and ragged clothes, but wounded human beings. They understand the value of touch, even for those who the rest of us may find untouchable.

They are the eldercare workers, who do not run at the daily reminders of their own mortality in the aged faces of those they serve, but who rather view the elderly as gifts of wisdom and lessons in appreciating each day. They look at them, not by them.

They are the soldiers, who stare into the eyes of the enemy to keep them from our shores, who often die young, before they’ve had the chance to build their own lives like those we enjoy. They are the ones who in the name of country selflessly bequeath us our freedom.

In America, it is common for us to express our adoration for some of those whom we most greatly admire—our athletes, performers, and celebrities—through riches, awards, and ticker tape parades.

You won’t, however, find the people on the abovementioned list in a limo waving to cheering crowds or behind a podium clutching a golden statuette. You won’t find them living in Beverly Hills, or shopping on 5th Avenue. Their financial compensation for their labor is minimal. They clearly do not work for the money or recognition.

Recognition, however, is what they rightfully deserve, and Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity to convey that—a quiet holiday for quiet heroes.

 

At the close of every Thanksgiving eve, sated with good food and warm memories, as I put away the last of the dishes that reside on the top shelf of the china cabinet, I remind myself not to shelve my gratitude along with those dishes. I make a vow to give daily thanks for all my blessings, and to count among the greatest those who look when we look away.