This week I attended the funeral of a friend’s father. In our church alone, two members lost their dads in just two days’ time last week. My friend’s dad was young, just 70, or as they say now, “the new 60,” and similar in age to my own father. As I sat in church on Tuesday morning alongside my friends, I looked through the pews ahead of me at the backs of my friend, her husband, their children and her mother. I watched as they supported each other and as those around them supported them too.
I thought of Thanksgiving, looming just days ahead, and I was sad for them, having to try to celebrate a holiday together so soon after burying the patriarch of their family. What would they have to be thankful for during such a sad, sad time?
But as I listened to the priest speak about the stories that their family would tell for years to come in celebration of this man’s life, stories that may be told over this week’s Thanksgiving dinner around their family’s table, stories that she told during her eulogy of her father on that very day, I was brought back to the words I had just typed that same morning before I left my house, the words that came from another priest in another church at an interfaith service I’ve now been blessed to be a part of for two years in a row. Last year I sat in the congregation with my oldest daughter by my side, my journalist’s notebook and camera in hand, and was moved by the experience of being part of a service that involved so many faithful from all different faiths, joined together as one for one night in celebration of Thanksgiving. This year I was in the choir, joining my voice with those voices around me; people I did not know, from churches and temples I’d never been to, taking my notes for this year’s article in the margins of my sheet music with an orange pen I grabbed from my purse. This time my youngest daughter was now by my side, singing her heart out, while the rest of my immediate family sat in the congregation listening.
I listened on Sunday evening, and the words echoed in my head again on Tuesday morning as I typed, and later as I sat in my pew at the funeral, as I remembered that the Reverend spoke of the paradox of Thanksgiving. He explained how it arose as a national holiday in the midst of extremely difficult times, specifically during times of war, and that although it may seem that out of awful times such as those might come bitterness, anger and ungratefulness, that in actuality, it is out of all those terrible times that people pause to think of what they are most grateful for, and that is the true spirit of Thanksgiving.
I thought of his words as I looked at my friend and her family in front of me, and I thought of their own first Thanksgiving without their father, grandfather, husband or friend, and I realized that out of this most awful and difficult time, they too will truly realize how grateful and thankful they are for all the times they had spent together with him over the years and for the memories of those times they will forever carry in their hearts.
As I thought of their family, I thought of my own. This past week of sadness has, as the Reverend said, made me think of what I am truly grateful for as well. This week of watching my friend mourn her own father and tell the stories of the special times they spent together this summer before he really fell ill, made me thankful for our own times that my family has gotten to spend with my father and the rest of our families as well. Family time is so important to me, and I am blessed to be able to have several generations of both of our families nearby. Our time with them is precious albeit fleeting.
And so, as I close the keyboard today in celebration of another year’s Thanksgiving, I am reminded of what I am truly grateful for, and I am reminded that sometimes it takes tumultuous circumstances to bring us back, to remind us of what the true meaning of Thanksgiving really is. It is more than turkey and pie and all the fixings. It is more than a long weekend out of school and days off from work. It is a reminder to be grateful for our blessings, no matter what they may be, no matter how difficult the times may seem.
For the good times and the bad times, for family near and far, for all that I have, for all those around me, for all of that and more, I am truly thankful.