She was very young when my stepdaughter, now a beautiful young lady, met my extended family for the first time at our traditional Thanksgiving gathering. When the evening was over and we were driving home, I asked, "Well, what'd you think of Thanksgiving at the McSwains?"
"I think I need a therapist," she responded. At just five, I was surprised she knew what one was.
Her assessment was spot on, however. Ours is a dysfunctional family. I see it in them because I know it in myself. We like in others what we value in ourselves. We dislike about others what we deny in ourselves. Gratefully, I've learned to like myself over the years, which really just means I've learned to forgive myself and so to forgive them.
Which is precisely what keeps me returning to the annual family tradition, too. It's there, with the family, I remember who I am. It's there, I'm reminded who I'm not. Rumi once said, "If you think you're so enlightened, spend a week with your family." We laugh and sometimes cry. We debate and often disagree about everything from religion to politics to the really important stuff as in how Bristol Palin manages to remain on Dancing with the Stars. For all our oddity, however, we are family. And, I am grateful.
1. For my children, too. Perfect? Pretty close. A day rarely passes but what I look at them and know, for all my blunderings as a parent, they have become remarkable young adults. They're independent and hardworking, but as different as night and day. They love their parents and quick to say so. They think for themselves and their beliefs are their own. They're responsible, as well as compassionate human beings. How could I not give thanks for such children?
2. For my parents, I give thanks. I get my own independence, and survivalist instincts, from my mother. She's relentless. Will celebrate her eightieth birthday soon, but age doesn't seem to bother her. To her, aging is something old people do. Yes, we're planning a party for her eightieth. But, just to make certain we hadn't forgotten--which of course we had--we recently discovered Mom had reserved the party room for her own party at the condo where she lives.
With Dad, I have only the memories. He up-and-died before any of us were ready and that just before Thanksgiving sixteen years ago. Talk about a strange day. Everyone was at table but the one whose chair was conspicuously empty at the end. His death was a life-defining moment, as in the day Kennedy died or 9/11. When it happened, I couldn't imagine anything worse. Sixteen years later, I can't imagine anything better. I describe at length in The Enoch Factor how I arrived at this conclusion, as well as the transformation that occurred in my life as a consequence. Louis L'Amour said, "There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning."
My in-laws are amazing, too. Since they live hundreds of miles from us or we from them, we only rarely celebrate the holidays with them. It's trite to say, but true. Whenever I hear "salt-of-the-earth," I think of them. The day I married their daughter, I became their son. There's no pretense with them. They're two of the most grounded and spiritual people I've ever known. They simply live and live simply. They do not judge people either, even those they don't understand.
3. I give thanks for my work--the fact that I have a job and one I love. Today, many would give almost anything just to have a job to hate.
I quit looking for myself in my work many years ago. I used to think I showed up for some grand purpose in life. So, I squandered the bulk of my adult life looking for that purpose, my big break, the "opportunity," and that one chance to make a name for myself and so fulfill the great calling of my life. I finally realized, if I was ever going to be happy--not just temporarily - I could achieve that on occasion - but genuinely happy - that kind of inner stillness and contentment--I had to give up that silly notion. Instead, I began practicing the art of self-acceptance, to learn to enjoy what is, not what used to be or what might be. The Buddha said, "Do not dwell on the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment." Jesus said much the same thing, "Take no thought for tomorrow." It sounds impossible and almost is. But, with practice, there's peace--the kind that stays with you.
4. For my church, I give thanks. A self-described, "thinking, feeling, healing community of faith." It's all three. Contrary to most, there's freedom to think here, to believe as I discern for myself. This church has declared no war with culture or science or other nations. Everyone's welcome, regardless of race, or sexual preference. Women lead here, too. Absent is the madness in much religion--as in extreme forms of Islam and Christianity--a madness that assumes, "We're right, you're wrong!" "We're in, you're out!" "We're the chosen ones, you're not!" How could I not be grateful for a church like this?
5. For my country, I give thanks. No, I don't like a lot of what goes on, especially in Washington. I used to like flying, too. But, not anymore. Don't want TSA officials touching me or looking at me as if they might--like I'm the needle in the haystack, the one, lone terrorist among a trillion travelers.
I don't like wondering whether the news I'm getting is accurate. Or, that taxes go up and service goes down. Or, that the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer? I don't like it when leaders are moved more by the whines on Wall Street than the woes on Main Street. Or, that our lawmakers endlessly debate things like the "Don't ask, Don't Tell" policy. I'm bothered whenever we defend the human rights of people in other nations but deny the equal rights of citizens in our own. I don't like the fact that on Thanksgiving day, while I'm enjoying abundance, there are twelve million children who are hungry. And, this in America alone.
Yet, for all I don't like about what's going on in America, I can't imagine any place I'd rather be. Where could I go to find greater freedom? Or, more opportunity? Where could I see mountains and valleys, streams and rivers more colorful or stunning? And, where would I find people who are more beautiful, compassionate, and generous? So, today, I pause to give thanks for America and for those who've given their lives to defend the freedoms I too often take for granted.
Sometimes I remind myself that I could have been born somewhere else. But, through no choice of my own, I was lucky enough to be born here--in America. How could I not be grateful but, especially, on Thanksgiving Day?