The Last Thanksgiving
A short essay on not taking anything for granted and counting our blessings on Thanksgiving and every day.
"The world's most unsatisfied hunger is the hunger for appreciation."
- Mary Crisorio
Last weekend, while visiting with my sister and her children, my seven-year old nephew, Mikey, informed me that he was building a bomb shelter to save his toys when the end of the world comes on New Years Day. I asked him why he thought the world would end on New Years Day, and he told me that he'd heard about it at school from his friends.
"Grown ups don't tell us kids stuff like that, they try and keep it a secret," he informed me matter-of-factly. I confessed that while I might have been guilty of keeping a few secretes of my own from him, I promised that I knew nothing about the world coming to an end at any point in the near future, and that I wondered if his friends might have been misinformed. He gazed at me sympathetically for a few moments, and then told me that he didn't want to make me sad, but it was true.
I responded that there were a number of rumors spawned by Y2K that I didn't believe for a moment, and that there were a whole lot of scientists who didn't believe them either. Mikey was generally impressed with the opinions of scientists, as he planned on being one when he grew up. I was counting on his faith in them to give me some leverage, but Mikey wasn't buying.
"Well, auntie, I think the President told them to keep this a secret," he replied apologetically, apparently hating to disillusion me.
continue story below
I continued to attempt to persuade him that while there might be some minor inconveniences at the beginning of the New Year, we were perfectly safe. While he eventually made significant concessions, it was clear that I hadn't completely convinced him. Finally, he suggested that while the kids at school could have gotten it wrong, we might want to do our best to make this coming Thanksgiving "extra special," since it might very well be our last.
Later, the same night, while my daughter and I were preparing to make a Thanksgiving tape for my grandmother, I asked if she'd heard at school that the world would be ending soon. She told me that she'd heard a little about it but didn't believe it would happen. I breathed a sigh of relief, but then she added, "people just seem to keep getting worse mom." I asked her what she meant, and she wouldn't (or couldn't) answer, no matter how I rephrased my questions. Once again, all of my years of training to be a psychotherapist were rendered useless in the face of a child's silence.
As the last Thanksgiving of the century approaches, and plans are made all over the world to commemorate the dawning of the new millennium, we're confronted with at least as many gloom and doom stories it seems, as we are offered reasons to experience a genuine sense of optimism, gratitude and celebration. I'm painfully aware that there are a number of economic, social, and environmental challenges that we confront today that appear to only grow more daunting, and on a bad day, I'm willing to admit that the future looks pretty grim.
So many of us reminisce about the good old days, a time when we had no conception of aids, the war on drugs, nuclear bombs, school shootings, managed care, dead beat dads, day-care scandals, holes in the ozone, and acid rain. Those days when the pace was slower, families stayed together, foods weren't poisoned with pesticides, and people communed on front porches or around kitchen tables, instead of sitting silently in front of television sets, have come to represent our lost golden years to so many Americans.
The Greek philosopher, Epicurus, once advised that we shouldn't diminish what we have by longing for what we don't have, but instead we need to recognize that so much that we now take for granted were once among the things we only hoped for.
Not so long ago Aids was unheard of, and yet it was entirely possible for entire communities to be wiped out by smallpox or the measles. There was a time that parents never even imagined that while their children were in school, some crazy kid might walk into their classroom and start shooting. Instead, in the not so distant past, funerals for toddlers and mothers who never left their birthing beds alive were all too commonplace. Back then, parents didn't need to concern themselves with the massive amounts of junk food consumed by their offspring, and weren't engaged in a daily and often futile struggle to get their children to eat their vegetables. But, these were also the days when if the crops should happen to fail, entire communities were confronted with starvation.
And while families for the most part stayed together, a three-hour road trip today to visit friends and relatives would have been a three-day and often arduous journey rarely undertaken in the early years of the last century.
Yes, it's true that our ancestors seldom if ever considered divorce as an option when those small and inevitable disagreements evolved into bitter battles. Still, I suspect that "till death do us part," meant something entirely different to a generation whose life expectancy didn't come close to approaching the ancient age of seventy. And the rising cost of health care wasn't much of a concern to a world where emergency rooms, neighborhood health clinics, immunizations, CAT scans, burn units, and blood tests hadn't even been conceived of.
As I begin to prepare for the last Thanksgiving that I'm likely to speak with a grandmother who now lies in bed on a hospice unit, I'm trying very hard to count my blessings. And while I attempt to stay focused on them, I still find my vision obstructed every now and then by anticipatory tears of grief. I'm grieving for a woman who enchanted me with stories as she gently braided my hair, who played cards with me for hours while teaching me some of the finer points of winning and losing, who took me on wonderful and even sometimes outrageous adventures, and who offered up a seemingly endless supply of time and love for me.
Abraham Herscel wrote, "we teach our children how to measure, how to weigh. We fail to teach them how to revere, how to sense wonder and awe." As I approach this last Thanksgiving of the century with more than a little ambivalence, there are so many gifts that continue to delight and sometimes even astound me. And I want to do my best to inspire the children in my life to celebrate the magic and mystery of our troubled but still beautiful world.
Albert Einstein wrote, "There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." On the one hand, I'm a born skeptic, and on the other, I'm an absolute believer in miracles, how can I not be, when miracles can be found everywhere I look, if I'm only willing to see them?
This weekend, if Mikey still insists on building his bomb shelter, I'll help him. And then I'm going to ask him if he'll assist me in making plans for next year, an event that the United Nations has proclaimed as the "International Year of Thanksgiving." I'm thinking that we might want to start by making a list of everything we're grateful for, and I have a feeling, knowing Mikey, that our list will contain a whole lot of miracles.
next: Life Letters: Honoring Both Traditions and New Beginnings
Staff, H. (2008, October 22). The Last Thanksgiving, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, March 30 from https://www.healthyplace.com/alternative-mental-health/sageplace/the-last-thanksgiving