I remember my first Thanksgiving in the United States being one of utter amusement and self-examination. It was here in Maryland, at my aunt’s house in Riverdale, Maryland. My aunt called me sometime in September and invited me to Maryland for Thanksgiving. I thought that was so kind of her! And so I flew from Atlanta to Maryland on my first Thanksgiving break for my first Thanksgiving celebration. But as I drove to my aunt’s house on Thanksgiving Day, I drove by a church with the pithy cliché “What are you thankful for?” on its signpost.
“What are you thankful for?” I asked myself. I didn’t know much about Thanksgiving, nor had I done any research into the history of it; all I knew about Thanksgiving was that families gather to eat a lot of food. Throughout that evening, and ever since, I have not been able to divorce myself from that question “what are you thankful for?” It’s on my mind, and it keeps playing over, and over, and over again.
I have a lot to be thankful for. And I am sure you also have lots to be thankful for. Marcus Cicero, a Roman statesman once wrote that "A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues.” The Pilgrims knew that a thankful heart is a humble heart, because that heart upholds its dependence on others, and on God. A thankful heart embraces the notion that we cannot do it all by ourselves, human interdependence makes it possible for us to celebrate the little successes, and yes, even the failures and tragedies in our lives. The Pilgrims were keenly aware of this reality; they more than appreciated the help of Native Americans on whose support they relied upon throughout that bitter winter. To be thankful is to remember the gifts that you have received.
There’s a story of a 6 year old boy who was in the market with his younger sister. As they walked through the stalls, the boy suddenly realized that his sister was lagging behind. When he looked back, he saw his sister standing in front of a toy shop, watching something with great interest. The boy hurried to his sister and asked her “do you want something?” The sister pointed at a beautiful doll. The boy held her hand like a responsible brother and led her inside the store. The boy’s leadership amused the shopkeeper.
The boy picked the doll and brought it to the counter and asked “How much is the doll, sir?” The shopkeeper asked in response “Well, what can you pay?” The boy fished some loose change out of his pocket. It was all he had. The shopkeeper counted the change, it wasn’t nearly enough to cover the doll's cost. “Is it enough?” The boy asked. The shopkeeper smiled, “It’s more than enough.” He then returned a few cents to the boy. The boy smiled in triumph. The shopkeeper bagged up the doll, and the kids went on their way.
One of the associates at the store watched the entire transaction with great surprise. She asked her boss, “Sir, why did you give such a costly doll for only pocket change? The shopkeeper responded, “Well for us it is only pocket change, but for that boy and his sister it is everything. And at their age, they don’t understand what money is. Not until they are grown up. And when they remember that they purchased a doll with a pocket change, they will remember me and know that there are kind people in the world. They will develop a positive attitude, and will be motivated to do good.”
What are you thankful for? You may also ask yourself. As we travel to see family and friends, we cannot help but be thankful for all the people in our lives. And when we survey the spread on our dinner tables, may we never forget what it is that brings us together. The food may be sumptuous and out of this world, but at the end of the day, it is not only about food, it is about each other, and what we offer to each other. And that is more than the food we will eat.
Yes, like the little boy, we know that we are walking with others; that is why we look out for them and share table with them. Like the shopkeeper, we know that acts of kindness pays enormous dividends. That is why for me Thanksgiving is about kindness.
What am I thankful for? A lot. More than I desire, or deserve. The grace of God found me, and for that I am thankful. It is also my prayer that you may remember and, furthermore, you share your sense of gratitude with a thanksgiving praise that echoes beyond the table you set, and beyond the walls of your home.
I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.