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Thanksgiving And Your Priorities

Here is my column in [the November 21st] Greenville News:

This Thanksgiving we will have 32 guests at the table. Rather, at the tables we scatter about the dining room…and living room…and kitchen. At our house, food is practically a sacrament. And obviously Thanksgiving is the high holiday of American eating. So we will be honoring the tradition by feeding everyone as much as we can.

Because the guests are all beloved to us, we will also have a variety of foods, in a variety of presentations. For instance, there will be fresh cranberries for organic purists, as well as a maroon gelatinous mass of cranberries for those who feel that cranberries indeed spring from aluminum. The turkeys will be divided perfectly among dark and light meat lovers. And for the carb-loving, there will be sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and potatoes soft, but cut into chunks. (In deference to the texture-challenged.)

We will have assorted dressings, casseroles and vegetables. And more types of sweets than any of us really need. All of it because we love one another, friends, family, young and old. And we want everyone to have something that they love. The sheer pleasure of eating is one (but not the only) reason that we love the holiday so much.

I think we also love it for a few other reasons. For instance, we (and I mean all Americans) love it because it slows us down, just a bit, before the Christmas madness sets in. Yes, the day after Thanksgiving it’s “game on.” But on Turkey Thursday we stop, if only because we are too full to move. So much of our lives involve rushing, hurrying, competing. Thanksgiving is a food-stuffed, sleep-inducing speed bump in the frantic activity of the season.

We also love it because it is tangible. Today so much is virtual. So much of our lives are borne on the airwaves, across cell-towers or satellites. Our pleasures are so often intangible, insubstantial — distant sounds and images on movies, television shows, or the Internet. Even our work is often virtual. Thanksgiving is a time when we can touch and taste, listen and embrace.

The things which delight us that day are material and substantial. We may watch the Macy’s Parade or football, but it’s all background to the chill air, the wind and blowing leaves, the warm food, the laughter; and best of all, the presence of people who matter. And if our loved ones are far away, and we can only reach them by phone, by Skype or e-mail, we do it because we crave their touch, their voice so deeply. At Thanksgiving, as we cook and carve, eat and talk, we celebrate our humanity. It is an appropriate preparation for the Christmas season, which addresses our souls so beautifully and with such hope.

I also think that we love Thanksgiving because of its stated purpose. Humans naturally worship; so humans naturally crave order. That may be a controversial statement, but it isn’t really insulting. We all, on some level, elevate certain things to higher levels than ourselves. Whether ideology, science, power or God, worship (by any other name) is what we do.

Therefore, I believe we desire a kind of hierarchy in our lives. On Thanksgiving, we pause from our self-adulation, our self-absorption, the certainty of our own self-determination and seem to say: “I should be thankful.”

We may disagree about who it is we should thank, but the day gives us a chance to put things in some priority. Many of us will pray thanks to God for His gifts; others may simply say, to those they love: “Thank you for being here, thank you for being mine.”

Hopefully all of us will feel a sense of gratitude towards those who came before us, who established our republic, who built the road from the past to where we are today. Thanksgiving removes us, briefly, from the centripetal motion of our lives and forces us to look outward at the gifts and sacrifices of others, and for many, upward to the Creator. At the very least, it makes us remember that most of what is ours was not our own doing, whether we are talking about turkeys, countries, planets, or life itself.

So dear friends, enjoy the simple delights of food, laughter, the touch and the sound of others. Put your loves in order. And remember to look around at all the things of value, of worth, of beauty, that you did not produce, did not create, but are blessed enough to enjoy.

Especially the family snooring by your side in turkey-induced comatose states.

*This blog post was originally published at edwinleap.com*


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