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Give Thanks!

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Carol Bossard


What a rapid run through November we are making.  Days are flitting along like leaves blown by November winds.  Thanksgiving is a week away.  Am I prepared for the holiday season that follows?  No, I am not!  But somehow, we always manage to celebrate royally, ready or not.  I enjoy Thanksgiving because it is about family and gratitude.  There are fewer dizzying activities like wrapping gifts, running hither and yon, and all the hullabaloo that goes with Christmas.  The weather is usually better too.  I do, however, remember one snowy Thanksgiving, in our family annals, when we lived in central Pennsylvania.  The snow began the Sunday we were to return from Victor to Lewisburg.  By the time we hit Rt. 15, only one lane was plowed and traffic was moving at the speed of a sloth.  I remember visualizing, in my mind, a long line of traffic, running from Buffalo to Washington DC, going 35 mph.  After that trip, we decided to never again be on the road, the Sunday following Thanksgiving.  If the boys missed a day of school, OH Well!

One other really different Thanksgiving, occurred the year our first child was born.  The due date was close enough to the holiday that the doctor said: “No travel!”  So, we celebrated sans family.  I think our dinner might have been pizza; it is certain that I didn’t roast a turkey!  The weather was so mild that we went walking on the very quiet rural roads near Lewisburg --- no one was out --- everyone was inside, having dinner.    It was a quiet and quite lovely day.  We probably could have gone home to NYS and returned with no trouble since our eldest didn’t decide to arrive until several days after Thanksgiving.  But that year, we learned that even when conditions are not as one would like them to be, Thanksgiving is still a good day.  Realizing our blessings can happen no matter what.

The fruitcakes for December will soon be marinating happily in their occasional sprinklings of B&B Liqueur.  Upon reading this, both of our sons will roll their eyes; I’m sorry to say they have “bad fruit cake attitudes”!  I didn’t make fruitcakes during their childhood; so ---my bad!!; They don’t like the candied citron, pineapple and cherries that go into the cakes.  But for those of us who do, these cakes are nutty, rich and moist ---- not at all like the fruitcakes of modern parody that one might use for hockey pucks ---- or weapons against intruders.  Taking advantage of nice weather, we’ve put the white lights on our crabapple trees lining the driveway.  This task has been getting more difficult as the trees grow taller and taller.  But we --- and our neighbors --- all look forward to seeing them lighted.  As the darkness grows and the temperatures fall, the lights comfort us; they say “HOME!”  One of our friends had a daily drive through a long sparsely-inhabited area on her way back from work, and she said that when she saw our lighted trees, she relaxed and felt secure once more.  From our very first apartment to our current home, we’ve “left the lights on for you”.   Friends regularly made comments about how dreadful our electric bills must be (they aren’t), and for a while, Kerm would go around turning off lights as I left the room ---- but now --- after 58 years, he has given up.  (Now he goes around blowing out the candles after guests leave.)   Not only do I like the bright lights for myself, but I hope we are a beacon to passers-by.   Emerson said that “the ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.”* I want family and friends to find us with open doors and lights of welcome.

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Using a pole to drape lights from branch to twig reminds us that we aren’t as agile as we’d like to be.  While there are definitely some benefits to getting older, agility generally isn’t one of them.  There’s a good reason that someone quipped: “aging isn’t for sissies!”  Our bodies are less accommodating to our desire to run, climb, twirl, skip.  My mind tells me that I could just run up the lawn to chase our neighbor’s flock of chickens back home.  Fortunately, a louder voice of reality breaks into my thinking saying: “Are you nuts??!!  You’ll fall on your face. The chickens will laugh! ”  Having experienced this very thing one winter with a hawk (a story for another time), I know that overly-positive thinking can only bring, at the very least, chagrin and bruises, and-- at the most – injury!

We sometimes have even more trouble accepting the culture around us, which is also changing and bringing some unwelcome challenges.  Note how popular are the postings of “Do you remember?”  They usually feature dial telephones, candy cigarettes, moderately unsafe playgrounds, riding in the back of a pick-up truck, etc.  Even if what we remember wasn’t all that safe an activity, we are comfortable with it because it was within our experiences, and we survived (not much mention of those who didn’t!). It is a human tendency to look backward with pleasure, then observing the generations coming up with a raised eyebrow.   In fact, at least as far back as Plato, there are writings indicating mild to strong disapproval of the next generation.  Psychologically speaking, we question the new because it makes us uncomfortable and/or afraid.  Younger and more tech-savvy people talk about new technology in a way that leaves us feeling stupid.  Contemporary safety regulations to protect everyone from toddlers to seniors, seem inconvenient to those of us who didn’t have them.   We see social behavior that would have been deemed quite inappropriate 50 years ago now being acceptable to many.  We may feel out of touch, unseen and unheard in all the fast-moving, glitzy world around us.

Remember that song from “Bye, Bye Birdie”**------ “What’s The Matter With Kids Today?  When our community group, presented that musicale, most of the adult cast were parents, and we sang this with enthusiasm.   Unfortunately (or not), all our attempts to stall or prevent change, will not stop change!   As Leo Buscaglia*** said: “The only thing certain is change.  To battle change is to waste our time; the battle can never be won.  To become the willing ally of change is to assure ourselves of life.”  Some changes truly aren’t good ones --- like being glued to an electronic device to the point where one drives a car into the other lane or ignores the people sitting next to them.  And yet, if we are honest, neither is change always a bad thing.  If I hit a deer while driving, I can call for help.  My community is no longer isolated simply because it is rural, and I’ll learn right here, to understand different ways of living.  Those who resist every change that comes along, stand in danger of becoming rigid and stodgy, and I don’t believe that we were created to be either.  If we actually make the effort to balance changes with comforting tradition and try to understand, something wonderful often happens.  Artists do this all the time.  I hope that this kind of discernment is possible for you and me as we look at life today and tomorrow.

There have been studies (Yale, Cornell, Harvard and Berkeley) about how living a life filled, not with complaining, but with gratitude, affects one’s health.  Apparently, people who consistently feel gratitude for their days, are measurably healthier than those who don’t.  These studies began around 1995 and have been published, so they can be googled.  A few years ago, when our granddaughters were younger, I gave them a book called: The Secret of Saying Thanks.  The author, Douglas Wood,**** helps young readers appreciate what is around them ---- “the sunrise, that silent stone that’s been waiting age upon age for someone to come and just say ‘thanks’.”  The book concludes with what these more recent studies have also found; “we don’t give thanks because we are happy.  We are happy because we give thanks.”

Some days, admittedly, my attitude isn’t stellar.  There are days when I allow myself to be critical and pessimistic about the world.  I mean --- just look at this planet and the bottomless pit of bad behavior!!  And those days seem to go from bad mornings to worse afternoons, and on to depressing evenings.  Then I need what a former teacher told his difficult students, “It’s time for an attitude adjustment!”  We would surely be happier if we breathed out prayers of thanksgiving as we go through our days.  As the year moves into winter perhaps instead of complaining about heavy boots and jackets, we could be glad we are sufficiently clothed.  Perhaps we could admire the first snowfall (we had a chance just last night) for the beauty it brings instead of the inconvenience.  As we do this, our eyes may be opened to see all the small wonderful moments in a day --- and how they outnumber the negative bits and pieces that intrude on our happiness.  They say it takes 6 weeks to form a new habit.  This might be a really good time to test that out.   And while I’m being thankful, I must mention my gratitude to all of you who take the time to read what emerges from my brain and fingers.   And, I enjoy when you respond.    It makes me feel connected and stirs up new ideas!  ‘Tis the season for thanks!  Happy Thanksgiving to each of you.

Carol may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net.


*Emerson --- Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American philosopher, poet, essayist, abolitionist and leader in the Transcendentalist movement.

**”What’s The Matter With Kids Today?” – from Bye, Bye Birdie ---sung in original Broadway Production by Paul Lynde and Dick Van Dyke --- 1960.

***Leo Buscaglia --- Italian-American author and motivational speaker, professor of Special Education at the University of Southern California.  1924-1998.

****Douglas Wood --- American author of kids’ books, singer, song-writer and speaker.

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