I am thankful for my family. I could fill a book with all the reasons why, but suffice it to say that I love them all and I am thankful that they are all well and happy. I’m thankful for every moment of tiime we get to spend together. When we can’t be together, sharing a meal at the same table, or enjoying laughter, travel, or a bit of friendly competition over board games or backgammon, I’m thankful for all the ways technology has made it easier to keep in touch. Modern messaging apps and video chat make the world just a bit cozier.
I’m thankful for good health. Aggressive treatment for three years has beaten osteoporosis back to “osteopenia.” That’s the brittle-bones equivalent of “pre-diabetes.” But with any luck, improvements will continue for a while. Then, back in September, I finally gave in and went for an overdue first colonoscopy. Ugh!! (Oh, go get it, if you’re due. It’s not pleasant, by any means, but just do it.) I don’t have colon cancer. Yay!!! But they did find a rare type of cancer – neuroendocrine cancer. Fortunately, I live less than 30 miles from the world’s #1 cancer hospital. And the tumor was found and treated early, before it had had a chance to spread anywhere else. Most neuroendocrine cancers aren’t even diagnosed until the patient has had it for 5-8 years, by which time it has likely spread – because we have neuroendocrine cells throughout our bodies, in places like lungs, liver, and pancreas. Its absence, in this case, is confirmed by tests and an outpatient surgical procedure at MD Anderson. Doctors are are even willing to use the word “cured.” In an overabundance of caution, they also confirmed that there was no recurrence of the breast cancer I had ten years ago. Right now, I’m ridiculously healthy and extremely thankful for that. I guess that leaves me with no excuse for chocolate cake and couch-potato-ing. I’ve lost almost 30 lbs. since July – not one ounce of that was “unexpected,” attributable to cancer, or unearned through disciplined diet and exercise, by the way! I still have months to go before I hit my goal, but I’m right on track to do that by next summer.
I’m thankful for the teachers who have generously shared their knowledge, rather than jealously guarding it. There is an interesting discussion on Dan Antion’s post, “Pay It Forward.” Dan talked about soaking up knowledge, learning from others, gaining their respect and trust, and how some people prefer to keep their “trade secrets” to themselves. I commented, “There are those who hoard knowledge, fearful of competition, and then there are those who are always eager to learn more, to perfect their skills, and to teach the next generation so that they, themselves, can move upward and on – knowing that they’ll leave the world in good hands. Teachers are a special breed of humans, and we ought to appreciate them more.” I am thankful for the many good teachers – formal and otherwise – that I and my children have learned from. The bad ones’ names have long been forgotten.
I’m thankful that there is justice for Ahmaud Arbery, this week. We have a long way to go before society is truly equitable for all. Fundamental fairness should be the goal, not some mythical belief about how we are all equal. We were all born with equal value, but failure to treat each other with fundamental fairness means that isn’t enough. Racism isn’t “over.” We’ve made progress, but we do a lot of back-sliding. We are not “better than this,” but we can be – and our future together in cooperative democracy and civilization demand that we be.
I’m thankful for food, shelter, and clothing. I wish everyone had that, at least. If you want to give this holiday season, consider giving to your local food bank. But give to them when it’s not a holiday, too; it does more good than feeding a family on just one special day. “Saying grace” wasn’t something we did at every meal – to me, it’s an internal moment of gratitude, not requiring lengthy prayers or speeches – but some childhood favorites (blessedly brief ones that touch on all the important points!) come to mind, today:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
Bless, O Lord,
This food to our use
And us to thy service,
And keep us ever mindful
Of the needs of others.
If you’re not religious, you can adapt these prayers and let the sentiments expressed in them serve as aspirational reminders.
I’m thankful I’ve had opportunities to travel. I’d rather do that than drive a fancy car or buy expensive jewelry. If we can take anything with us into the afterlife, maybe it’s the impressions from a lifetime of soaking up the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures of the world around us. It’s a big, beautiful planet – how many lifetimes would it take to experience it all? My parents always believed that travel was more educational than time spent in the classroom. Both are important, but I know they were right – if I had to choose one or the other, it would be travel. Reading and travel do more than almost anything else to teach empathy – to open people’s eyes to the world around them, and to make them see both the differences and the common humanity in people who aren’t just like them. It’s really hard to hate people you know; it’s much easier to harm – not even through hate, but just thoughtlessness and lack of concern – the people who aren’t quite real to you because you’ve never met them.
I am thankful, today, but I recognize that for many Native people, Thanksgiving is also a “day of mourning.” I mourn with them. After much reading, I’m grateful that I learned a story of the first Thanksgiving that was closer to the truth than a myth – the version I was taught clearly credited the Wampanoag people for the survival of the settlers. It did not treat them as “supporting cast members.” The feast was depicted as something that would never have happened without their having taught the Europeans some very basic survival skills. But that’s where truth starts to crumble; as children, we knew nothing about tribal politics. We believed that the Pilgrims were more humble and more grateful than they were; we did not know that the Native neighbors weren’t exactly invited to share the feast, until they showed up with an offering of deer meat. We did learn that the European colonists failed to honor their treaties; they failed to keep their word. That was not glossed over, even in elementary school. We were sheltered from more brutal truths about the interactions of white people and Native people, over the ensuing decades, but I’m thankful that I didn’t learn some sugar-coated lie to be met with shock and disbelief and unlearned in adulthood. Gratitude and grief are not mutually exclusive; their intertwining is as complex as the history of humanity. Read the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address – I would reiterate its words here, as well.
I’m thankful for vaccines and those who step up to take them – not just for their own well-being (which should be a strong motivator) but for the sake of others in their community. They work. Maybe not perfectly, maybe not 100%, but they work. And they also help keep people out of ICU and alive if they are unlucky enough to get COVID in spite of being vaccinated. So do masks – they work at stopping your spittle from reaching me and my spittle from reaching you, and spit droplets are the little vehicles that virus particles ride through the air to get from one person’s lungs to another. No one ever said that cloth or disposable masks would stop the virus itself, but if we can stop little virus clown cars from ever reaching our noses and mouths, they work. It’s sure a cheap and easy thing to try, along with frequent hand-washing. And as an added bonus: these things help keep other nasty little germs away, too.
I’m thankful for the people whose hard work and sacrifices have helped to keep us all safer. We Are All Essential, but some work is more urgently essential to our health and well-being, and I am thankful for all who have been on the “front lines” during the pandemic, keeping everything going, often at great risk to their own health and well-being. Just as I believe the best way to thank a veteran is to pursue peace, I think the best way to thank our “essential workers” is to make their jobs easier in any way we can, and to support their businesses as we return to “normal.”
Enjoy the day – I hope that you are surrounded by family, friends, and plenty of all that makes you happy. I love Thanksgiving – it’s a holiday centered on people, good food, mindfulness, and reflection. It doesn’t demand frenzied buying sprees and never tries to gobble up all the other holidays, like Christmas does. Thanksgiving is quiet and warm. Have a joyful one.