Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love it because it has resisted in quite admirable fashion being morphed into a “Hallmark Moment,” replete with cards, gifts, and candy. I love it because it is one of the few holidays (July Fourth being the other) that everyone who considers themselves American celebrates together. It doesn’t matter where you are from or what religious traditions you follow, it belongs to everyone.
I love asking my community college students what they eat for Thanksgiving. Seems as if almost everyone has turkey, but what ends up inside the turkey is as wide-ranging in its diversity as the country itself. The sides might be tamales, pancit, or sticky rice in place of, or alongside mashed potatoes with gravy, and the bread might as easily be tortillas or injera as dinner rolls.
Thanksgiving speaks to the universal need to express gratitude, an acknowledgment of this simple fact by the nation with the most to be grateful for. Sure we have our problems, collectively and individually, but I try to remind myself that even at the lowest points of my life (which those who know me are aware have been pretty low) , I am more fortunate than most of the people on the planet. For many years in place of a grace that my agnostic family could not say with any real sincerity, we went around the table and said a few things we were grateful for. And then we dug in and ate and ate and ate.
But my purpose today is not to write about my personal list for this year, but to talk about some of the “big picture” things I am grateful for. I was reminded of some of these by an article by Don Harrison, editor/publisher of San Diego Jewish World, which appeared in that paper today. He had made a visit to a local university and been moved by a corridor which featured quotations from different wisdom traditions around the world. Here are a few that particularly touched me:
Buddhism on Service: May I through whatever good I have accomplished become one who works for the complete alleviation of the suffering of all beings. May I be medicine for the sick. May I be their physician and attend to them until their disease no longer recurs. May I be an inexhaustible storehouse for the poor and may I always be the first in being ready to serve them in various ways. May I be a protector for the unprotected, a guide for travelers on the way; a boat, a bridge, a means of crossing for those who seek the other shore. For all creatures may I be a light for those who need a light, a bed for those who need a bed, and a servant for those who need a servant — Bodhicaryavat?ra of Shantideva
Judaism on Wisdom — Happy is the person who finds wisdom and who gets understanding. In her right hand is length of days; in her left hand riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life for those who grasp her and whoever holds onto her is happy. Do not forsake her; she will preserve you. Love her and she will protect you, hug her to you and she will exalt you, embrace her and she will bring you honor. The wisdom is a house built and by understanding it is established. Whoever finds wisdom finds life and obtains favor from the Lord. — Proverbs 3
Christianity on Love: Love is always patient and kind. Love is never jealous. Love is not boastful or conceited. It is never rude and never seeks its own advantage. It does not take offense or store up grievances. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing but finds its joy in the truth. It is always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes. — 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Native American Tradition on Respect: O Great Spirit Whose voice I hear in the winds and Whose breath gives life to all the world, hear me. I am small and weak. I need Your strength and wisdom. Let me walk in beauty and let my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset. Make my hands respect the things that You have made and my ears grow sharp to hear Your voice. Make me wise so that I may understand the things that You have taught my people. Let me learn the lessons that You have hidden in every leaf and rock. I seek strength not to be greater than my brother and sister but to fight my greatest enemy: myself. Make me always ready to come to You with clean hands and straight eyes so when life fades as the fading sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame — Let Me Walk in Beauty
Today I am thankful for the opportunity to reflect upon service, wisdom, love, and respect, and thankful for the lives of those who have passed these words on for all of us to contemplate.