Today is the first Thanksgiving Mass that I will be able to attend. I’ve looked forward to it. There is a tradition at my parish to bring a non-perishable food item to donate.
At the time of the offering, instead of passing a basket around the pews for a monetary collection, parishioners process to the altar and leave food items. It was a really profound experience, everyone giving what they could, wishing the others a Happy Thanksgiving when they passed one another.
At the end of the Mass, each family was given a small loaf of bread to bring to mind the Eucharist we had just received to share with our families. Breaking bread is a tradition followed by nearly every culture across the globe.
Our parish has a very active St. Vincent de Paul Society who collect food for Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets for those that request them. They also provide Christmas gifts to those less fortunate so that the kids will still have a memorable holiday. They also work throughout the year. They ask for nothing in return. My son and I volunteered one year to help load the Thanksgiving boxes/baskets and it was an exuberant, lively, joyous crowd, bending and lifting, filling boxes and organizing food and household items like paper towels and toilet paper. One of the things that amazes me when I see the men and women volunteering for the Society is the compassion and positivity they come to their ministry with.
I am still surprised when I do something for someone else with no expectation of reward, although every time I’ve volunteered or done something extra or special, I have received a reward: a smile, a thank you, but most importantly, a swelling of my soul that feels so much better than receiving a gift myself.
We all want acknowledgment for our good deeds. It doesn’t have to be much; a simple thank you or smile will suffice. But seeing a child with a huge smile as they receive a winter coat or a pair of boots or sneakers. An extra pudding or lollipop. Bright eyes shining with joy.
During the homily, which was of course very G-d centered, it made me recall the first thanksgiving. Not the holiday proclaimed by President Lincoln, but the very first one. While both the Pilgrims and the Native Americans had their beliefs and would have expresed their gratitude to, there was also much more to that day and fall season for them. Today should be a reminder of that cooperation, the beginning of that friendship. The Native people welcomed the new immigrants, refugees even, from religious persecution. There was the language barrier and the difference in customs, but they muddled through.
And we can all muddle through with the challenges we’ve been given and thankful for the blessings we receive.
Thanksgiving is a good reminder to look around and smell the flowers. Take a little extra moment to look at your family as they’re playing with cousins, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, taking a hike or playing in the snow, and sitting around the table, passing dishes that we’ve eaten every year since forever in our families.
I make my friend’s sweet potato pie or a sweet potato casserole.
I make my grandmother’s green bean casserole, which is really French’s recipe. My grandmother always made it without milk to keep it kosher in her house.
We rely on 1950s convenience: Heinz gravy, DelMonte French style green beans, Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup. We make mashed potatoes from scratch, but my mother used to use a box mix of potato flakes. My sister’s husband would only eat mashed from scratch. He never noticed the difference. (I’d leave a few lumps in it for him.)
Think about what you’re grateful for and try to remember it the rest of the year. One way is with a gratitude journal. Or a jar to add slips of paper to for the year. I did this one year, and it was a joy to sit on New Year’s Eve and read through that last year of good moments. Whatever you come up with, find something that works for you and your life.
This year had some really difficult times for our family, and we’re still struggling with them: my mother-in-law’s death this summer and the election of Donald Trump as our new president, at best a wariness as we wait to see how his administration forms. I already have some issues, but this is not the forum. Suffice it to say, we are all waiting to see where we go from here, and we should all be praying for our next president and our country. I would encourage that to be the first thing we do.
If I learned anything from this past Year of Mercy, it is that mercy is everywhere; we just need to simply accept it when it’s given or found.
For my part in being aware of my blessings and my gratitude, I will be planning on incorporating a gratefullness to a weekly writing blurb.
In the meantime, I look to my family, my extended family, my friends, my church, and my support network to continue moving forward in my writing and my life.
I will spend tomorrow being grateful for what I have and how far I’ve come.
Bless you all on this day of thanks.