Abraham Lincoln declared the national holiday of Thanksgiving in 1863 amidst some of the darkest days of the Civil War. Lincoln hoped the gesture might be a unifying measure. That didn’t really happen back then but Thanksgiving has since become a time of celebration and unity that transcends the crass commercialism that accompanies it. We take a day – or maybe only a moment – to pause and give thanks for whatever blessings we may have. Lincoln’s gesture reminds us that at the worst and most hopeless of times, we should remember what we have to be grateful for.
2015 has been a tough year for my family. As I write this, my father is in his fifth week in an intensive care unit. It has been very touch and go but after some pretty radical procedures Dad will soon be moved to a specialty care facility at another hospital where the goal is for him to progress to the point that he can come back home.
This would be good news for everybody, but especially for my mother who has been by Dad’s side every single day, holding his hand for hours on end and diligently making tough decisions about his care. My parents have been married almost 63 years and the bond between them is unusually strong, especially in the tough times. Mother is a cancer survivor; when malignant melanoma was found in one of her eyes thirty years ago Dad was beside her, fighting tirelessly with her the whole way. They have been a formidable and indominatable team throughout their decades together. Now it’s Mother’s turn to speak for Dad and she is showing how tough, resolute, and resilient she can be.
In the six months since my Dad’s health issues began a noticeable decline, some of my friends and acquaintances have faced their own challenges, serious illness, and a few deaths. Back in the summer I remarked to a friend that “I’m not ready for this part of my life.”
So we take it day by day and try to be as positive as possible, even on the bad days and through the dreaded phone calls in the middle of the night. Dad still can’t speak but this weekend he wrote a few sketchy notes. He asked for his glasses and then wrote “How do I get out of here?” When Mother arrived at the hospital he wrote “I love love you.”
Mother said last week that there would be no Thanksgiving celebration this year. I understand how she feels and know how difficult it will be to work in Thanksgiving among the hospital visits.
Yet, remembering Lincoln’s gesture as well as the gesture of the English immigrants and indigenous people at that proverbial first American thanksgiving, it seems that the hardest of times may call for the most fervent of thanks. These times give us an opportunity to reflect on what we still have and appreciate and hope for.
We may not have a feast with a bird and all the fixings but I am sure my family and I will find time enough and reasons to give thanks on Thursday.
Simple Gifts (Shaker dance tune)
– Joseph Brackett (1848)
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
I thank you for reading my journal.