Remembering Thanksgiving Past

A recent bout with a stomach virus robbed me of some of my enthusiasm regarding the upcoming holidays. In an effort to reacquaint myself with the Spirit of Thanksgiving, I revisited my writings from past years. I wrote what follows a few days before Thanksgiving 2002. In the process, I’ve found just what I need to revive my spirit…

Today, I enjoyed the privilege of stopping at the grocery store on the way home from work. Like the many who joined me there, I was running late. As the cars of other “before dinner” shoppers filled the parking lot, one shopper backed out just as I came along. I was able to park in a “prime” spot and slip into the store quickly. As I fumbled for the list in my pocket, I noticed a bigger than life display of stuffing mixes and turkey gravies. I thought this was rather odd until I looked up again to read the meat department’s invitation to order a fresh turkey early. I gasped as I realized that Thanksgiving is just a few days away. With everything that has occurred, both personally and in the rest of the world, I had given little thought to the holiday. As I made my way up and down aisle after aisle, I considered what Thanksgiving will be like this year.

Usually, my family gathers for a Thanksgiving Dinner that includes thirty-three family members and a traditional meal of turkey with all of the trimmings. This year, due to various familial happenings, some of us will dine with our immediate families. Later in the day, we will gather at my sister’s to continue our festivities with my mom. According to her doctors, this will likely be my mom’s last Thanksgiving Dinner with us. With this the case, I was briefly surprised and impatient with myself for having lost all sensibility regarding the holiday. I actually neglected to argue with my husband for a fresh turkey rather than his favorite -any turkey that sports a pop-up button to indicate when it’s ready. I didn’t try to convince my sisters that we all needed to eat together this year to make Thanksgiving a memorable day for my mom. As I gathered the items on my list, I found myself a bit melancholy. I realized that our scattered dining arrangements are the least of why this Thanksgiving will be very different.

I have come to know that the things for which we are grateful are relative. The blessings that enrich our lives vary as our circumstances change. What was important just a while ago may mean little to us today. This year, my mother and her housemates have put things into perspective for me…

One man, who looks very much like a descendent of Beethoven, suffers from emphysema. Some days, he buries his face in his hands putting all of his energy into breathing. He gives thanks for any breath that comes easily. Little Mary and Marie are confined to wheelchairs. Little Mary suffers from constant shoulder pain. On the rare occasions that the pain subsides, she gives thanks with a wonderfully content smile. Marie has difficulty controlling her hands. When she is able to feed herself an entire meal, she sighs a sigh of true accomplishment and a barely audible “Thank God!” Myrtle ambulates here and there on her own. Sometimes, when the confusion sets in, she fights to put herself back on track. When she wins, peace returns to her eyes. She expresses her gratitude with sociable chitchat, acknowledging the company of friends, many of whom cannot respond in kind. John takes pride in pulling himself up and out of his chair independently, not an easy task for a six-foot-four-inch former basketball player who must rely on a walker for stability. When he succeeds, John walks without hunching over and with uncommon pride. My mom considers her current living quarters to be “a nice place with very good food.” She smiles and hurries off when it’s time to play Bingo. She especially enjoys it when one of her five daughters appears to join in the fun. My mom is grateful for the pain-free days that continue in spite of the cancer. She is grateful for our outings. Our homes and the movie theater continue to be her favorite destinations. Perhaps she gives thanks most for remembering. My mom knows her children and her grandchildren, her sister and so many extended family members. She also remembers herself.

As I consider the things for which my mom and her friends are grateful, living another day with a bit of joy in their hearts seems to top the list. As I consider the things for which I am grateful, I note the blessings of my new job and new opportunities to write -things I’ve waited so very long to enjoy. Yet, when I prioritize, time with my family, time with my mom and time spent talking to God top the list. When life is painful, I find myself embracing the things that bring true joy.

This Thanksgiving Day, may God bless each one of us with true joy. May God grant us the courage to face our sorrows and the wisdom to embrace our blessings. May we bring comfort to those who need us and may we find comfort in those we love. May peace reign in our hearts and overflow into our world. May we be a grateful people, generous in our thanks to one another and to God, for what we have and what will come. Happy Thanksgiving!

©2011 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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