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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Glow of Thanksgiving*

Unattributed graphic from Google Images

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat November 22, 2007
*Clinton (IA) Herald, November 21, 2007
*Glasgow, KY Daily Times, November 21/2007
as "The glow that comes with Thanksgiving"

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey
Written content only

"I do not think of all the misery,
but of the glory that remains.
Go outside into the fields, nature, and the sun;
Go out and seek happiness in yourself and in God.
Think of the beauty that again and again,
discharges itself within and without you;
And be happy.
--Anne Frank

The setting aside of a national Day of Thanksgiving is one of those events whose origins become shrouded in mystery over time, truth and myth interwoven into a fanciful tapestry unquestioningly enjoyed by all. Thanksgiving is truly an American holiday, the trappings, traditions, and tapestries drawn from the past, both the collective and the personal.

Most societies whose survival depended on the bounty of the land have held a harvest celebration of some kind, and for good reason. As anyone who’s ever done it can tell you, farming is hard work. It was even harder before industrialization produced the tools and machinery we so often take for granted today. The risks were huge. Planting had to be accomplished late enough to escape the frost, yet early enough to ensure that the food would be ready to harvest before the cold moved in and killed the plants. In between were dangers such as hail, high winds, locusts and other insects, drought, flood, disease, the health of the farmer, and then the race to harvest and store the bounty before it rotted in the fields. So, when the harvest was successfully brought in, it wasn’t just a business accomplishment; it meant survival.

The Pilgrims who arrived in 1620 were intimately familiar with the hazards of life on the frontier. Had it not been for the largesse and generosity of the Wampanoag tribes, it’s not likely the colony would have survived. As writer H. U. Westermayer observed, “The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.”

It wasn’t until 1789, though, when George Washington declared a National Day of Thanksgiving, an event that was discontinued by Thomas Jefferson. In 1863, President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a National Day of Thanksgiving. That tradition continued with every president after Lincoln, the date changing from time to time. Finally in 1941, President Roosevelt designated the 4th Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day, which is what it’s been since.

Late November is a time of transition. The colors of fall have long since faded, and most of the country still hasn’t seen the first flakes of winter. Even on sunny days, the landscape is dominated by bare-limbed trees standing watch over fields of brown. And after the verdant greens of summer and the riotous tints of autumn, the dull sepia tones of November seem stark and cold.

But on Thanksgiving, the colors of life return. Families gather amidst joy and laughter. It's a time when children who’ve been away at college take the first real break of the semester, and those who serve in the military get a rare holiday leave, their young-old faces betraying a latent homesickness as they luxuriate in familiar surroundings. Kitchens are bustling places as the long hours of preparation pass. Fireplaces glow with warmth in rooms filled with happiness. Football is on the TV, the karaoke player is going full blast, and the women plan for the shopping madness of Black Friday with a tactical thoroughness that would have impressed Robert E. Lee.

It’s also a time when a parent will seek a quiet moment to ask their now-grown child, “So, how are you…really?”

When we spend time apart, we make that special effort on holidays like Thanksgiving to reach out with our hearts and touch each other. For those who “come home” it’s a time when the often cold realities of early adulthood can be shut out and we can discover that “home” is not just a house. It’s a place of the heart where we are sheltered by love. No matter how far away we may be, as Wilbur D. Nesbit wrote, “Forever on Thanksgiving Day, The heart will find the pathway home.”

The highlight is, of course, the meal. It is symbolic, of course. The harvest is in, the larders are full, and the homestead is secure for the long winter. But for me, it’s not the mass of food on the table. It’s the faces of family, glowing with love and happiness around that table which seal those joyful memories forever in my heart.

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments
when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”
--Thornton Wilder

Those treasures of family gathered, of joy experienced, of love given and received are what gives Thanksgiving its inestimable glow. For that, I will always be thankful.
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