Understanding Giving Thanks

Hello from Fog and Flame,

It is the day before Thanksgiving and I am working on a variety of things. I have pretty well completed one of my classes, at least finishing in terms of putting up any information for the remainder of the semester, and yet, I have a number of other things to manage. In spite of the hectic pace (which I have decided somewhat stubbornly to change), the holiday in its nostalgic way, has causes my thoughts to focus a great deal about Thanksgiving and what the holiday means to me. Because of some other work I need to manage, I have been pushed to consider the issue of thanksgiving even more. As I write today, the temperature is dropping and there are more things in front of me than all the things on the proverbial Thanksgiving table, but much in the same manner, I will work through them. Some of them remind me of what it means, however, to be thankful or enveloped with a sense of gratitude. More and more, I am realizing how fortunate I am. I have always been fortunate when I think about it carefully. Even in the most difficult of moments, I have had options. Never have I been told there is nothing to be done or never have I been faced with only consequences that would create more hurt than good.

As everyone has headed off to be with family or friends for our break, I am reminded and cannot help but reminisce about the amazing Thanksgiving feasts (and they were certainly that) from when I was growing up. As I have noted in other posts, my grandmother owned a bakery and there were more breads, pies and other things that graced our table than one could even begin to imagine. The aromas of bread, pies, turkey, cranberries, and all the things you want to each, but could never hope to manage (the proverbial eyes-bigger-than-stomach ~ oh if that were still the case) met you as you opened the door. Being on a 2,500 acre farm in South Dakota, Aunt Helen had a garden of perhaps a half of acre. This meant I learned to eat and appreciate vegetables in ways most could only ponder. Swiss chard is, to this day, one of my favorite veggies. I loved Brussel sprouts, any kind of winter squash, root vegetable, and most any manner you might prepare them. Certainly the food was delectable, and to this very day, there are some dishes that I believe the Thanksgiving tradition is not met without a bountiful helping of scalloped corn (as we called it) or the long-term, slowly-cooked cranberry sauce with amazing spices. Driving to South Dakota (even though it was barely an hour away) could always be an adventure. Winter storms on the prairie are quite different than what I have experienced here in Pennsylvania. I remember whiteouts and an auto accident trying to make the way back from Hot Springs, SD to St. Paul, MN. I remember barely making it to an airport to fly to Europe in 1985. I remember a 1957 Chevy blowing a piston when I was in elementary school as we traveled to Beresford, SD. Maybe it was that state. Hmmmm? What I remember more importantly, however, was the incredible love, kindness, and gratitude my Great Aunt Helen and my Grandmother Louise always showed to each and to all of us. They were so excited to have everyone gathered around the table. They illustrated in the most profound and inclusive manner what it meant to be thankful.

This now Thanksgiving morning as I walk around my house, an old farm house that has some characteristics of my aunt’s and my grad mother’s house, I cannot help but feel their presence in this place, and that gives me both a sense of joy and yet a yearning for that time when I understood and experienced unconditional love from two of the most incredible women, with whom God ever graced this earth. Together they demonstrated an amazing tolerance for others and the way the supported and loved each other was an example for all people, but especially siblings. They went through difficult times, but the love and support they had for each other everyday of their life was beyond palpable, it was fundamental to their very being.

On this day of Thanksgiving, at least the American version of it, I have decided to remain at home, in a sort of solitary and reflective way. That was a conscious decision. So much like Scrooge in his childhood, everyone has left school and gone to somewhere to celebrate, before you feel sad for me, fear not. I am enjoying the time to merely remember and intentionally recollect that matters to me, to consider what (as well as who) we have become as people, as a nation. It is 55 years ago today as an 8 year old I watched as the rest of the country (and perhaps the world) did as we mourned a President assassinated at 46. At 8, I did not understand either how young that was or the magnitude of the tragedy our country was feeling. I remember spending hours and days in front of the television. I remember being amazed by the pomp and solemnity that characterized the casket in a Rotunda, the procession of a horse-drawn caisson, a riderless horse and a 3 year old saluting his father’s flag-draped casket. I remember watching an assassin being assassinated on live television. All of this was shortly before Thanksgiving that year. Even for an 8 year old, I knew the world had changed. I would not understand the change then and I am not sure I understand it now. However, much like 911 changed our understanding of American and the world at the turn of this century, I feel 112263 did the same. Perhaps the loss of a President was profound in a different way because many felt America had come into her own as a power and democratic force for good and this fairytale existence of helping the world and the world being a better place was shattered. Again much like 911 burst our bubble of aqua-security, we were forced to see alternative forces in the world in which we live.

I am sincerely concerned about our democracy and the forces in our world once again (and yet even though the forces, while in plain sight) are more insidious than ever. The issue is too many do not want to pay attention, content with the latest sound byte or 280 character epistle. Instead of working on our mutual humanity, the seeds of division, mistrust, and suspicion are being sown at every chance. Before you think I am pointing fingers at only one person, or one branch of government, I am not. I will certainly not absolve that person or branch, but the problem began long before 2016. For the better part of the last 25 years, since the Contract for America, which I believe was a Contract on America, the tone and conversation that has come out of Washington has been anything but civil, anything but grateful. Ironically, at least for me particularly as a current Pennsylvania resident, the braintrust (and I was this term both as oxymoronic and terribly intentional) or person responsible for this collapse in civil discourse was born in Pennsylvania, and even in our state capitol, of Harrisburg. A state that was founded on tolerance and good will seems to have birthed someone who was hell-bent on implementing the opposite. A hypocritical person, who was instrumental in pushing an impeachment for lying about sexual impropriety was simultaneously doing the same thing while his wife was in the hospital with cancer, and yet he was held up as a moral paragon. Again, I do not condone was WJC did in this way as President. I believe (and others more astute than I have written formal pieces about this) that the 50th Speaker of the House of Representatives did as much as anyone to start us down the path that has led to the election of the outsider, would-be-politician. Again, I can understand why people of all backgrounds from every corner of this country are fed up with the politics as usual. There is a significant part of me that can understand how we have elected what I believe to be the worst grand experiment the country has every started or employed. As the attacks on the judiciary, the intelligence community’s conclusions, and on anyone who seems to disagree continue, what have we become on a day when we pause to give thanks?

What I hope is happening is that people are actually listening, paying attention and questioning, on both sides of the aisle. What I hope is that people will continue to question our elected leaders and hold them accountable. That is what democracy is all about. That is why we have the opportunity to go and cast our votes every couple of years. The turn out for this immediate past election gives me something for which to be thankful. While I am not into blue or red waves, I am into the waves of democracy rolling down like righteousness as noted in the Old Testament book of Amos. I know that was not what Amos was referring to, but he was referring to justice, and the importance of justice and equality in this world is what we believed in from the outset . . . I also realize we did not do it so well, in spite of the Hallmark version many want to believe in about those first Thanksgivings. What we did have in that first couple years was Native American people reaching out to assist, protect, and support those huddled on the Mayflower because they could not stand the winter. What we had was the Native Americans teaching the Pilgrims how plant and survive . . . as noted in an article I read from the History Channel earlier today, it was, unfortunately, the only time Native Americans and we immigrants really treated each other with dignity and respect. Ironic that it was the immigrants that created the heartache and problems for those already here. Seems we believe much the same today. Ironic that we were all immigrants at one time hoping for something better, but we have lost track of what it means to hope for something better and seem to have little empathy or compassion for those who want nothing more than we did.

So . . . for what am I thankful when it seems there is so much to be concerned about? First, I am grateful that I have a job that I love. I am grateful that I have colleagues and friends who bless me with their presence in my life. I am grateful for a family that raised and supported me, even though it was not always as I thought it should be, I know I am much more fortunate than many. I am grateful that I can merely write this blog and question the path I believe we are taking as a country and it is okay to do so. I am grateful that in spite of more things that I could have ever anticipated in terms of my health, I am still fortunate enough to have good health care and manage those issues. I am incredibly humbled that I have been able to meet so many astounding people from around the world in my 60+ years and I have memories that I will treasure for every day I am blessed to still walk this earth. Happy Thanksgiving to all, be you in America or somewhere else. I wish you each a time to ponder and realize what gifts you have been given.  In light of us growing and trying to manage a better world with gratefulness and moral courage, I offer this. My thanks to a Lieutenant General for his moral courage and patriotism.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Author:

I am a professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and the director of and Professional and Technical Writing minor, a 24 credit certificate for non-degree seeking people, and now a concentration in Professional Writing and Digital Rhetoric. We work closely to move students into a 4+1 Masters Program with Instructional Technology. I love my work and I am content with what life has handed me. I merely try to make a difference for others by what I share, write, or ponder through my words.

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