I am taking a brief moment to pause in the final preparations for A TRIO OF IRISH TALES' release to reflect on the nature of being thankful. Enjoy!
An Unlikely Essay on Thanksgiving
by Judith Cullen
"It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us,
we had nothing before us,
we were all going direct to Heaven,
we were all going direct the other way
-- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."
~ The opening paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens
We do it all the time: measure where we are by comparison to another time, another place, someone else's life, the life we desire for ourselves. Life is full of "Tale of Two Cities" moments, as I refer to them. They are blips on the fabric of our lives where we know that our proverbial "glass" has both water and air in it, but we often choose the simpler path of acknowledging only one element. They are both there. They are always both there.
It was just two years ago that I had one of the worst, and one of the best Thanksgivings ever. For some reason Thanksgiving, above all the other holidays in my life's pantheon of celebration, has the largest list of years I would rather forget. There was the year that Mom fell and was in the hospital - the feast was a frozen pizza. There was the Thanksgiving that my sister's car broke down at the state border while bringing me home for the holidays from college in
Oregon. There was the year I got really sick during
the family gathering and had to go home early, spending the next three days in
Two years ago was pretty miserable. My home was in utter chaos because I was moving out of it after 21 years. I could no longer afford to keep the apartment that I loved, and where I have lived two decades of my life. I had given away many of my possessions in order to accommodate the down-sizing of moving back into the family home after over thirty years. There was so much packing left to do that I could
barely sleep. I was exhausted, in physical pain, and I felt like a phenomenal world-class loser. What on earth had happened to my life? That was me looking at only the air in the glass, which felt much more than half empty.
The next day the apartment was filled with friends and colleagues, who spent the next two days moving me first into my Mom's house, and then helping me store the remains of my belongings and close out the apartment. Those days, and indeed the days leading up to that Thanksgiving, were filled with multiple acts of kindness and generosity from so many wonderful people in my life. Now, does that sound like an empty glass?
A friend told me afterwards, "You were just so brave through it all. I admired your courage." Hell, I did not feel brave by a long shot. I felt like I was about to come apart in pieces, and I felt about as small as I have ever felt - grateful that I had so many people who came to my aid, and so frustrated that I had to depend on them and their generosity. But courage never happens that way, does it? Moments of personal bravery do not come from the intention, "I am going to be brave now." They come from the full realization of reality and the fear being faced, and the decision to go on anyway - sometimes barely holding it together and trembling every step of the way.
It has changed my perspective on Thanksgiving. I think it was that year, or in the events leading up to it that I penned and angry, authoritarian essay on Thanksgiving, decrying the superficial excess of it all and the insanity of the commercial explosion immediately following it. I never published that essay. I had even recorded it, but I deleted the file. I knew I was not my truth - what I believed inside.
You see, you can debate the larger picture of Thanksgiving: Is about pilgrims? Is it about the U.S. Civil War? I think it gets dicey defining the holiday by its various historical contexts. History has meaning in how we apply it to the context of right now. If we went back to the time of the Plymouth Colony and saw the "real" Thanksgiving, we wouldn't be so impressed. The truth of history cannot be made public in your average visitor's center - it wouldn't be hygienic. Our past is full of grit, disease, superstition, and ignorance. So, what is it we take away from Thanksgiving?
That brings us back to our glass, and the insight of Abraham Lincoln. He knew that in the midst of great suffering and travail, the sundering of a nation, there is always water left. The glass is never entirely empty. We lose focus on what we have, in our battle over what we have not. Thanksgiving is intended to make you stop and remember that you always have reason to be thankful.
When I look back on that list of Thanksgivings I would rather forget, I realize I never can. In fact, they are the years I remember most vividly, and not because of their badness. Like the holiday two years ago, the painful was balanced by acts of kindness, insights gained that were important and timely. There was always water in the glass if I chose to acknowledge it, focus on it, and appreciate it.
I raise my holiday goblet to you: may you always exercise the power you posses to clearly recognize all that is contained in the glass of your life. Happy Thanksgiving.