Chaplain’s thoughts …Holiday, Thanksgiving and gratitude: Some thoughts

November is the Thankful Month. OK, we observe a national holiday in the month. Note with me that it is called a national holiday, but in a historical sense it is not truly a holiday i.e. a “holy day.” Bear with me for a moment, I’m not suggesting you change the way you use the word holiday, but a look at its historical basis may enlarge our understanding.

It bears mentioning that the term holiday finds its origin in religion. So, in a historical, etymological sense of the word, we are dealing with days that are deemed “holy” based upon religious teaching and practice.

For example, the major holidays of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Christmas, Easter, Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha. These days are considered holy because of their deep religious significance. Of course, on a practical level most of us would call anything a holiday if it meant getting a day off.

But what about Thanksgiving? It commemorates a familiar American narrative of the arrival of the Pilgrims, their difficult first winter of suffering and loss of life, their adapting to a new environment aided by the Native Americans whose tutelage made their survival possible. It recalls the first autumn harvest feast with the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Tribe in 1621. This feast was indeed a feast of thanksgiving to God, but is not an official religious holiday on the Christian calendar. Rather, it is a national holiday/observance with deep religious/spiritual ties. Slight but significant distinction, yet the concept of giving thanks and expressing gratitude is universally seen as important in our lives, whether we are people of faith or not.

Please allow a moment of transparency. This year has been difficult for my family. During this year, my father’s health declined as he battled cancer and passed in August. So this year found me traveling home to North Carolina (go Heels) to visit my dad. As many of you have experienced or will experience, our family walked through many somber milestones leading to his passing. Taking of the keys to the car, hiring home health care providers, working with Hospice, moving Dad into an assisted living facility, etc. Through it all, the quality that I observed most in my father was his gratitude.

He was consistently grateful for his family. He would brag about each of his four children and repeatedly acknowledged the blessings God had given him. He verbalized his belief that he had been blessed in so many ways. He spoke of 60 years of marriage to Mom, whom he missed dearly, and looked forward to meeting again. He spoke of his grands and greats who were such a blessing to him.

I am reminded of one time when the family gathered at Dad’s house for a meal. The gathering included a half-dozen or more great-grandchildren who can only be described as one standard deviation away from barbaric. They played with reckless abandon in the living room. Dad sat in his recliner and enjoyed the “show.” The greats in question weren’t mine and their parents were present but oblivious to the riotous activity and the painful cacophony that was occurring at the feet of my father. I did the brave thing and ignored this assault to my ears and parental sensibilities. Mind you, my two brothers and my sister would never have gotten away with this. The grands would have been quieter, but the greats … oh my goodness, convicted felons have behaved better.

Eventually, through divine mercy, the greats left for home, and I was left alone in the quiet house with Dad. Just the two of us, enjoying the stillness of a house without children. As we talked I discovered that he did not share my perception of the evening.

“Wasn’t it lovely to have the greats here?” Dad said. “They had a wonderful time, don’t you think?” he continued. “It’s such a blessing to have them here … they are such beautiful children, and their parents are doing so well at raising such happy children.”

Perhaps, one’s perspective changes with the years. Perhaps, having hearing aids to turn off or remove can create a strategic advantage. Maybe … but I’m convinced that Dad had the better attitude and perspective. He lived in the moment, and celebrated the blessing of a house full of noisy kids. He expressed gratitude to God for his life, his family, for the profound privilege of living long enough to enjoy his great-grandchildren and just before he passed, he rejoiced in seeing his first great-great-grandchild. He reminded our family that one should never miss the opportunity to express gratitude to family, friends and to God.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Thanks for your service and sacrifice.

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