Thanksgiving Fully Present

There are three things I love about Thanksgiving: the future, the past, and the present.

I think as a child I probably loved Thanksgiving because of the future—it meant Christmas was coming soon! It was also a holiday I anticipated with great joy because it meant we’d go visit Grandma Dorothy. She married my step-grandfather late in life—but just in time for my sister and me to adore her. The house she shared with “Daddy Bob” was a classic New England cottage in Waterbury, Connecticut. Cape-Cod-Blue with white trim, it stood erect despite the steep street that seemed to slice under it. My sister and I would go charging up the front steps to find two eagerly smiling grandparents opening the door to the enticing aromas of roasting turkey and baking pies. The furniture gleamed, the silver shone and the crystal sparkled, but never more brightly that Grandma Dorothy’s smile. While we waited for dinner to be served, we’d escape to the attic, where there were dress-up clothes to play with and empty notebooks I used to fill with stories. After dinner she’d recite, “Pick I up and put me to bed, but don’t bend I.” It was the one day of the year I feared I might actually pop.

Later I came to love Thanksgiving because of the past. The oft-repeated stories of fore-parents and their Native hosts, of sharing food and creating a tradition to mark the beginning of our extraordinary country began to inspire and has never ceased. Even if parts of the tale are apocryphal; even if some take offense; the story contains the seeds of gratitude, multi-culturalism, creativity, shared wealth and so many other qualities that have born good fruit in the future those early people worked hard to imagine.

Now, I find Thanksgiving is possibly the most inspiring day of the year. The first thing that inspires me is that we actually have a day set aside for thanks, and each year I make my gratitude list. This year I have more than ever to be thankful for . . . and close to the top of my list I find you, my readers.

What else is special about this holiday? Instead of opening presents, we open doors to glimpse the lovely faces of family and friends, and have the special joy of their company. I attend a favorite church service, where the American President’s annual proclamation is read, and where attendees share stories of gratitude and healing. Houses, not yet garish with the wonderful fun of Christmas, are resplendent with pumpkins and gourds, bright leaves and baskets of ripened vegetables. And so many kitchens—from estate kitchens to soup kitchens—are filled with the bustle and the aromas of the best meal of the year.

It’s a day for reaching out to friends who can’t be with family, a day for volunteering to serve food in shelters. It’s a day for taking walks, kicking through rustling leaves or holding a coat closed against a brisk wind. It’s a day for shutting down the computer and stepping away from our desks so we can flop on the couch and watch football, or cozy up for a good conversation over a cup of tea. It’s a day for cherished traditions and shared recipes, bringing the basics—food and stories—to the people in our lives.

It’s a day for using our heads—not for schedules and deadlines, but for deep reflection and real gratitude. And it’s a day for using our hearts—not to outline what we want, but to listen to how and where we might serve. It’s a day to unite head and heart so as to be able, from sheer gratitude, to find our cornucopia, to glimpse the infinite possibilities of the now, to be fully present.

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