A five-hour car trip, three cranky children fighting over the movie, and a bowl of cranberries threatening to spill at every turn — no wonder Thanksgiving morning feels more like a gauntlet than a holiday. Add stress from crazy traffic and any spirit of thankfulness seems miles away. How do we recapture a heart of gratitude so we can enjoy the day?
It helps to focus on what we do have.
Each of us sitting down to a warm meal should be thankful. 1.2 billion people around the world live on less than $1.25 a day. 805 million of those will go hungry today — and every day. Here in Indiana one million people go hungry. In Indianapolis alone 18 percent of residents live without reliable access to affordable food.
So those of us sitting down to a hot meal today — even if half the cranberries spilled onto the car’s carpet — fare better than one out of 10 other people in this country. This doesn’t mean guilt should spoil the day — it does mean we should recognize the incredible blessing we do enjoy. We can enjoy the potatoes, even if they are lumpy and the turkey, even if it’s dry. We should savor the spices in the pumpkin pie. After all we don’t let ourselves have dessert often anymore. As we take advantage of this feast, we should pause to appreciate that every dish was lovingly created and enjoy the talents in our families. And as we are preparing for our own feast, perhaps we can contribute (food, money, or a portion of our day) to ensuring those who are struggling have a feast of their own.
If we share the day with at least one other person, we should be thankful. Sociologists with the University of Arizona recently surveyed Americans to find that 24.6 Americans have no one with whom they talk about important or serious issues. Close to 50% have only one person — family or non-family — in whom to confide. In this age of social networking, isolation and loneliness are epidemic. While the conversation around the table might be sometimes strained or constantly interrupted by children’s chatter — we can be grateful to have someone with whom to share the day. And perhaps we can invite to our table that elderly neighbor or single friend who needs the closeness of other people.
Even as the children fight over the car movie — we can be thankful. About 10 percent of couples have trouble carrying a baby to full term and will face today with dreams of a family shattered by another miscarriage or another negative pregnancy test. All around are couples praying for children to cry in the car on the way to Thanksgiving. Though our son may spill the perfect bowl of gravy all over Aunt Sue’s lace tablecloth —those accidents become the great stories we tell in Thanksgivings to come. With children, the days are long but the years are short. Before we can imagine, our children will be loading their children into the car to head somewhere else for Thanksgiving. We can treasure that we have this day with them — spilled gravy and all.
On a day crammed with activity and expectation, the focus can get easily lost. Tomorrow is a day to be grateful. As my children sing, “a thankful heart is a happy heart.” (Kudos to Veggie Tales for little nuggets of wisdom!) When we focus on all we have, we face the events with the expectation of experiencing some of the best moments of life with people we love. That thankful heart can make this one of the happiest days of the year.
May you have a wonderful Thanksgiving with whomever is part of your celebration.