November 25, 2011

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Thanksgiving can honor the darndest things

Cynthia DewesThanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. Our foreparents invented it, FDR declared it a national holiday and we’ve been celebrating it ever since.

Surely we’re not the only people in the world to have cause to thank a good God for all our blessings, but I’m proud that we’re the ones who recognize the importance of commemorating it.

Giving thanks means many things to many people. Some folks are grateful for good health or a decent job or being in loving relationships. Some thank God because they have more money than anyone could imagine, a home so lavish that it might appear in an issue of Architectural Digest or membership in an exclusive country club. And some are glad they belong to a favored race or a powerful nation. What’s meaningful to one person may mean nothing to another.

If you live long enough, you learn to be grateful for the darndest things, things that you might think are painful or destructive.

For example, I’ve always been grateful for having had children with disabilities. Naturally, it was hard at first, when we went through all the stages of grief, including denial, blame-laying and, finally, acceptance.

But with the grief came more blessings than I can name. One was the realization that “bad” things happen to good people like us, things we did not cause and over which we have no control. It was a reminder that we’re not in charge of the universe despite all our noble intentions, cleverness or diligence. It taught us that how we deal with events without whining about “Why us?” would be the final arbiter of our family’s success.

Our other children profited from their brothers’ disabilities as well. Instead of complaining because they had to help the boys, or sometimes give up what they wanted because their brothers’ needs came first, they felt responsible and empathetic. They learned how to be good parents.

Even the neighbor kids learned compassion and tolerance of others who are different from themselves, and all of us enjoyed their sweetness and humor.

Then there was the time when our house caught on fire from lightning while we were away, and the roof was burned off. We had to move to an apartment for six months, which gave us greater appreciation of our home. It also revealed the goodness of friends and fellow parishioners, some of whom we had never met, who came to help us move out furniture. We discovered the kindness of strangers over and over again.

Another potential disappointment became a blessing when our only daughter married a German and moved to Hamburg. She has lived there for more than 30 years, providing us along the way with two wonderful grandchildren, three “greats,” and a raft of German and expatriate American friends whom we have come to love. It’s given us a great excuse to travel around Europe, to experience other cultures in depth and to better understand world politics.

The dings of aging have provided us with greater appreciation for things we formerly took for granted—things like seeing and hearing and unlimited energy. We seem to savor a tasty meal more than ever, and to really enjoy a good night’s sleep. We can rest and reflect and be silent without feeling an urgent need for action.

Instead, we can make life a constant prayer of gratitude for whatever life brings.

Thanksgiving is indeed a major American holiday, but it’s also something we can experience every day of the year.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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