I made time over the holiday for reveries over thanksgiving in my life. I don’t mean memorable opulent meals with all the trimmings, but thankfulness and gratitude– the original heart of Thanksgiving Day celebration.
I grew up in a patriarcal family where food was always preceded by a prayer of thanks by the man of the house. And in my home ‘grace’ was never a scripted ritual for rote repetition. For my folks, it wasn’t “saying grace” that mattered, it was being grateful.
I remember once as a boy grumbling over news we were having beans and corn bread for dinner, left-overs in my father’s absence. And I’ll never forget my Mother’s tough scolding that grumbling and gratitude cancel each other out: when you grumble, you’re not grateful and when you’re really grateful, you can’t grumble. As the only son in the family, I assumed the role of ‘offering thanks’ when we sat down for the meal. But when I bowed my head to say our dinner prayer, Mom said from the other end of the table: “NO! You can’t say ‘thanks’ over food you’ve complained about.”
The unprecedented thing happened at the Harvill home that night: Mom, my two sisters and I ate dinner without saying grace.
The Medieval Sufi poet, Rumi, says a man who works in a bakery can’t know the taste of bread as does a beggar. That ‘taste’ is the language of true felt-need and authentic gratitude.
Wednesday before Thanksgiving Day, as I grunted and groaned my way lifting, tossing off of the stacked truck bed, and then lifting again and stacking in the hay shed 25 bales of grass hay for my donkeys and goats, while they snatched mouthfulls from the bales that tumbled to the ground; on that occasion I said out loud to the donkeys: “You have a good thing at the Harvill house; you have no idea how much work you are for your Dad!”
I heard my Mom’s voice from years ago when I said it– and a reminder that ‘thanksgiving’ is bigger than a meal or holiday. It wasn’t just Creator who wasn’t ‘thanked’ for those beans and that cornbread long ago. She, our sweet-spirited homemaker, wasn’t properly thanked either for the work of her hands and heart.
As I’ve thought this week about thanksgiving, it’s clearer than ever that the spirit of Thanksgiving Day is not sumptuous meals, over-indulgence and football. It’s real gratitude– the kind that cancels out grumbling.
One more thing. My heart tells me no meal anywhere is as precious to my soul or more full of meaning than those beans and cornbread of long ago.
Joseph Harvill, publisher Great Scots Magazine